students

Endless Possibilities (tinkering to Utopia)

Endless possibilities: Liberating mindsets to effect change

Anthony Muhammad, PH.D.

This was a nice start to the day, opening with the big questions: like why do we have a public school system (quoted Tinkering towards Utopia) though pretty US-centric for all that. (grade-point average, college enrolment data etc.)

Muhammad argued that change was necessary for equity (and the achievement gap) and there were two forms of change needed:

  • Techno-structural (skills)
  • Cultural (will)

He argued that the cultural stuff is by far the most difficult. Using a gardening metaphor, he described culture as the ‘soil’, the technology as the plants.

Muhammad was particularly strong against the US model of failing schools, failing teachers, standardised testing etc. ‘Don’t do it’, he said. Yay, I replied silently in my seat. He argued for a move from meritocracy to egalitarian systems, and gave examples of egalitarian systems that education might aspire to. (like medicine, law enforcement and fire services, some of which had big holes in them aka ‘black lives matter’)

He called for a change to change mindsets, and two clashing mindsets (the superiority mindset, and the victim mindset) Schools that have one, or both, of these mindsets, have very big challenges in trying to improve. Superiority mindset is based on paternalism, competition and ‘standard-bearing’ (my construct is the best, and the only construct through which I define myself and others) THe victim mindset has irresponsibility, low motivation and low expectations of self.

He concluded with a liberation mindset with three commitments:

  1. A commitment to equality
  2. A commitment to responsibility as educators
  3. Advocacy (Dont’ be silent, advocate)

It was a good, aspirational, optimistic big-picture session. A great start to the day and not a gadget or gizmo in sight.

Session description

Endless Possibilities: Liberating mindsets to effect change

This session will explore the connection between personal/ institutional mindsets and substantive change. Schools have historically had a difficult time changing with the needs of the society and the primary culprit is our thinking. Technology and innovation are only as effective as the mindset of the people who use them.

 

 

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Fast and slow learners

Fast and slow learning at Amesbury

Some great principles from Amesbury School in NZ

  • Fast and slow learning (15 minutes)
  • Self-testing (Kahootz)
  • Status indicators: Red cup means ‘I’m in flow’ (Do not disturb) even in open space
  • Collaborative and solitude
  • Tents. Yes, tents.
  • One minute meditation (YouTube)
  • Online collaboration

Session Details

Paradoxical Education: Meeting the needs of our 21st century learners

As a new school which opened in 2012, Amesbury’s vision is for every child to continually fulfil his/her potential. This means every child gaining knowledge, skills and attributes; becoming “insiders” in the existing social orders – especially the community of learners; and, every student developing as an empowered and joyful human being. Lesley will share the pedagogical approaches that underpin what they do, and the practices that enable in eduation: “weak” and “strong”, ”risky” and “risk-free”, “predictable” and “unpredictable” – paradoxical education that meets the needs of 21st century learners.

Dr Lesley Murrihy, Principal, Amesbury School, Wellington (NZ)

 

 

First term in a new school

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Above: Buddy Day at ACMI. Photo: Warrick

It’s hard to believe that I’m about to finish term 1 in my new school, and I haven’t blogged about it yet.

Perhaps it’s still too new, and certainly too busy, to reflect properly on the excitement, the challenges and the possibilities of a new place.

In terms of teaching; I’m teaching Year 9 for the first time in a long time, and no Year 12. The conversations are very different but I’ve enjoyed the shift in lots of ways, and have always thought that you can make a big difference in a Middle School classroom.

In terms of technology, it’s a mixed place. There are IWBs that no-one uses much, Windows laptops for staff, a BYOD program 10-12 and an iPad program 7-9.

So, I’m teaching with iPads for the first time, supplemented by Jacaranda+ texts and some good old paper. I’ve been using OneNote in my own teaching (of course) but am itching to get Office 365 going in the school, and to get OneNote notebooks up and running.

I’ll reserve the iPads for a separate post sometime. They work well: reliable, great battery, portable, app-friendly. The students like them, and don’t mind typing on them (I bought a Brydge keyboard for mine as I don’t like typing on the screen) Of course, the problem remains switching between writing and reading so the need for paper as well, which I don’t like. I bring my heavy Windows HP notebook to most classes, mainly because I can’t plug an iPad into the IWB and the Apple TV solution hasn’t worked well. There’s room for some improvement there.

Otherwise, everything is new. It’s a smaller school so you’re across multiple roles more, some of which are pretty new to me. Being in a new school reminds you how students must feel going into new classrooms with new teachers every year. It’s been refreshing, but I hope to be able to blog more regularly from now on.

Below: Getting started, note Brydge iPad keyboard. Photo: Warrick

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Goodbye to all that …

IMG_9966I’ve probably written somewhere else in this blog about how I find the gradual spiralling at the end of the school year from busy purpose to a kind of dissolving nothingness, a bit dis-spiriting. I often find it feels bitter-sweet to farewell a class you’ve taught with purpose and energy as they (naturally) go their own ways, especially maybe with Year 12s as they leave the school as well.

So, this article by Secret Teacher in The Guardian, struck a chord with me. It was interesting that a young primary teacher feels a bit the same. I don’t think it’s ‘love’ exactly, but it is something felt; partly at the work and energy and effort you’ve got into getting something running well, to see it wound up and undone. But, also of course, the individuals you’ve worked with, discussed with, wrangled with, who’ve become part of your life. Until next year.

[Photo: Warrick]

What do I hope for my students this year?

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It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been teaching, you can’t help but feel a frisson of nerves, or tension, or anticipation at the start of each year.

Maybe you’re in a new role, or teaching some new content, but more likely, and most often, it’s the thinking about meeting your new class and planning to get that beginning going well and those interactions commencing on the right foot.

The advice I got in my first year of teaching, from a grizzled old salt from the History Department? ‘Don’t smile until Easter’. Talk tough. Start firm and relax later if you can.

But I’m not talking to discipline and behaviour. I’m talking about the anticipation around this particular group of students and how you’re going to create that learning culture that works. The students: Who are they? What do they hope for? How are you going to get to know them at the same time as you know you’ve got some key content and skills that they need to develop. I sometimes wonder if we over-estimate out importance; that maybe we think too much about it, or try too hard, plan too much for what will come. But, I don’t like to think like that. And I’m not getting all blasé about ‘just another year’ and all that. This year matters, for them, and me.

And I plan to smile before Easter.

Above: Flowering gum (symbol of hope!)  Photo: Warrick

Why resiliency matters

Where Resiliency Matters
Professor Paula Barrett – Pathways Research Centre, ANU, University of Queensland
‘You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck’
Dr Barrett talked about the stigma of mental health and how severe anxiety and depression was much more common than thought; one in every five people will experience severe anxiety at some time during their life, particularly at transitional times in life.
She argued that, unless people had life skills, anxiety can lead to depression. However, she also argued that there were proven clinical interventions that can now help although very few people actually get help.
She also spoke of the problems some students, especially able ones, have with ‘perfectionism’ and that sometimes these anxious students are very able, thoughtful, aspirational, articulate with good family support.
Her argument was that we should aim for prevention, and equipping young people with the skills through curriculum development and gave examples about skin cancer and dental health program that worked. The same is true for mental health.
She talked about ‘human capital investment’ – that, ‘the best investment every government can make is the implementation of evidence-based social and emotional skills programs in the school curriculum’ (James Heckman – Professor of Economics, Nobel Prize winner, 2000)
She argued for the positive psychology approach about resilience – ‘the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity’ and of building on strengths, not just compensating for weaknesses.
Her approach is for schools to deliver social and emotional resilience skills in an engaging way.
She spoke of risk factors and protective factors.
I was a bit worried at the lack of interesting slides; she talked a lot, without helping the audience much, but the content was strong enough to sustain it, and she spoke without notes and with good detail about some of the key factors that she had obviously researched for years.
One interesting thing was the link between physiological evidence and anxiety. One in five babies are a lot more sensitive to things like noise and light, and get distressed quickly and stay distressed for longer. She seemed to be arguing that these were the same children who were prone to anxiety although there are protective factors that are at work here too.
She then moved to the protective factors and why they were important, and how easy they were to implement in schools. ‘Attachment is the most powerful protective factor in life’ (Barrett)
Another important protective factor was ‘attention style’ or what’s sometimes called ‘Mindfulness’. This did resonate with me (it’s a bit like meditation) and it’s an approach that some schools (like mine) have begun to take up, for every student, more purposefully.
The three most important health factors she talked about were: sleep, diet and staying active every day; move for an hour every day.
Finally, she spoke about the future resiliency model she saw that all schools would be offering in twenty years time, if not now.

Monitoring (and celebrating) class behaviours with Class Dojo

A little while ago I was lamenting with my Literature class that it wasn’t always easy to document how that class went and establish what to do next, both of which are critical for effective planning, reflection, and formative assessment practice.

I take notes on student progress (formerly in OneNote, latterly in Evernote) but it takes discipline (and time) to do that after every lesson, let alone in that lesson itself. I might do that once a week, so I often don’t even have a record of who I’d had a good learning conversation with each lesson and, importantly, who I hadn’t spoken to 1-1 for a while in class.

It’s something that concerned me again recently when, at the end of term, I asked the students to complete a short online survey of how the course was going for them. Most of the results were positive; the students felt they could learn, were challenged to think and participate and enjoyed the range of activities, though one wag suggested that I could improve my tech skills 🙂

However, the lowest response came from the question: ‘Do you have a good sense of how you’re going in this class?’. It’s something that is difficult for Year 12 students sometimes, especially early in the year when they haven’t done much School Assessed Coursework (SACs) and it’s one place where a short 1-1 conversation can have much more impact than any general or group activity you set up.

But, who have I spoken to recently? Is the problem I began with.

So, I was very interested in the possibilities of the unlikely tool named Class Dojo which promises real-time behaviour monitoring. I saw the program from Roger Zuidema on Twitter and recorded that I was about to invent this!

I was surprised to get a pretty quick reply from the people who make Class Dojo too, proposing a Skype chat sometime about how it could be improved, which I’d like to do sometime.

How it works is you set up your class, who get zany colourful avatars, and you record good behaviour or bad in the class very easily via web page, iPad or iPhone. They get +/s or -/s against their name and the tally adds up. Over the lesson, or the week, or the term or whatever period you decide.

I’m lucky to work in a school where disruptive behaviour is rarely a problem but I was very interested in how this tool might be used to record learning behaviours. Our school’s reports, for example, include a set of ‘Positive learning behaviours’ from ‘Participates in class discussions’ to ‘Is organised and up to date with set work’ that teachers are asked to record in terms of how often they’ve seen their students exhibit those behaviours? Always, often, sometimes, rarely? But how do teachers record those behaviours and could Class Dojo help?

One of the first things I did was enter my students names and then showed them how the class looked via the data projector in class. They’re Year 12 students but they loved the quirky little pictures, immediately wanted to customise theirs (you can’t) or swap with someone else (you can’t).

We then looked at the behaviours section, which is at the heart of the program. We looked at the default behaviours (out of chair!) and talked about what + or – behaviours might look like in our Literature class, and then added them. One of the nice things is that you can set the positive and negative behaviours yourself and can even vary them from class to class. So, I can set up a series of learning behaviours that suit my senior Literature class, which are different to the ones I want to establish with my tutorial group in the wellbeing program. Here’s the behaviours we agreed on.

 

We agreed on these positive and negative behaviours and I was ticking off some of the things in Class Dojo through the class. This year I’ve started using a student as ‘class blogger’, who records the class discussions, rather than doing that myself all the time in OneNote, (they’re put up on the class wiki) and that’s helped free me up more to direct discussions or take records like this. So you click on the student names and assign ‘points’ as you go and it even pops up on the screen with a cool sound if you want.

At the end of the class, you get a report something like this

or you can get a report for each individual student, from any duration (whole year so far, this lesson etc) and you have the option to email that report card to a parent or student or email all the cards (it remembers the email addresses once you’ve put them in once)

 

 

I don’t think our school would approve of zany colourful non-letterheaded reports being emailed to parents, but I was happy to send them to students, always in a positive way to celebrate some ‘points’ they’d gained during the class. I wouldn’t want this to be a negative thing, and I wouldn’t be showing negative scores a lot, or giving them I hope. But, ‘not doing the homework’ is a pretty clear – in a Year 12 year.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a fun, simple and useful way to clearly document and share the good things that are going on in class? Yes. You need to have internet access and more importantly, your students on board; to involve them in the discussion about criteria and be clear and objective about how you’re using it: it’s not an assessment, it’s a tool for improving learning.

I plan to keep using it with my Literature class and wellbeing class this term and see how it goes.