Making sense of ACEL

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Back now for a couple of days after three days in Sydney for ACEL, blog posts about some of the individual sessions below, and trying to make sense of what I heard, and sort through a busy three days of sitting and listening mostly.

There were recurring threads this year: compassion, identity and the bigger picture of teaching beyond scores. And ideas that were ‘contested’, PISA particularly, which I found particularly interesting. Hargreaves (who I was disappointed in) and Harris (who I was impressed by) differed greatly on that one (see my tweet below!)

There was also a big gap at times between the quality of the keynotes and the quality of the break-out sessions, some of which were neither inspirational or particularly practical. It was a lot of sitting, I can’t imagine how students cope with this kind of thing all day, two hour sessions, a break, more hours of sitting. I went for a walk at one stage and rediscovered some favourite Sydney haunts, but it was mostly pretty conventional, passive kind of presenting and receiving.

Interesting too, the gap between the big picture future orientated, no time to waste, let’s transform kinds of presenters, to the attendees locked into specific systems and schools; that’s not the agenda at my school kind of thing.  There was some disquiet among people I talked to about opening the conference with a war story, and about killing people as Australian VC winter Mark Donaldson put leadership into a violent context. Context, that was one of the key words for me; big picture vs life in a school, equity vs excellence, Australia vs the world, transformative vs little picture nervousness. Tragically, the last day commenced with a minute’s silence for yet another school shooting in America, thus bookending the conference with images of violence permeating even an education conference.

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One of my favourites at the NSW Gallery – John Glover’s idyllic view of Tasmania.Processed with VSCOcam with e5 preset

High reliability schools (Robert Marzano)


Marzano talked about his model for school reform -for creating high reliability schools.

He talked  of four systems.
Knowledge – we spend most of our time in schools in this domain.

Metacognitive system

Cognitive system

Self system

Marzano argued that we spend too much time on the knowledge systems.

He talked about leading and lagging indicators, monitoring and celebrating success using quick conversations, quick observations and easy to collect quick data.

He had developed indicators for levels and shared some critical indicators for each.

Safe and collaborative culture

– a professional learning community process (we do better as a team than as individuals)

– Systematic examples of inspiration

Effective teaching in every classroom

– A clear vision of what good instruction looks like. (Many, many strategies that teachers can use and these strategies are observed and monitored)

Guaranteed and viable curriculum – content assurance across classes

– A focused curriculum that can be achieved in the time available .

– Continual monitoring the curriculum

– Direct vocabulary instruction (tier 1, 2 and 3 words) AND wide reading

– Reasoning processes including cognitive and contrive schools

Standards referenced reporting
– Clearly communicate what students know, using proficiency scales (learning progression)

– Students track their progress over time

– Report status and growth on the report, can be converted to grades

Competency based education
– Timetable can cope with variety of paces (requires blended learning approach)

– Adjusting reporting systems accordingly

– Less whole class instruction

It was a interesting session, a little US centric and a little marred by it being a Skyped in Marzano we were getting, which broke up a little at times. First world problems!

Courage and commitment to Lead

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I arrived in Sydney last night for the annual ACEL conference, themed Courage and Commitment to Lead, with a good lineup of speakers and sessions over the next three days. It’s always hard to get out of school so this is nicely placed during the school holidays and I’ve already enjoyed meeting up with colleagues and former colleagues as well.

It’s also nice to be visiting Sydney again; I took a walk down to Circular Quay before breakfast and loved that special mix of sun, salt water and ferries that epitomises Sydney for me.

I’ll  post some notes from some of the sessions over the next few days for your reading pleasure.

Photo: Mark Gray