Self-Assessment and the PTCs

For a couple of years now I have been asking teachers to review their practice against the Practicing Teacher Criteria. This is an ongoing iterative process that I believe teachers should be performing all the time however in this instance the process is formalised as part of their appraisal and discussion and goal setting for the following year.

I think this is a worthwhile process, especially know in my current school where I have 2 years of data to look and and help support strengths and weaknesses in myself and the teaching staff. This in turn will contribute to the PLD plan as well.

So how does it work? Firstly I set up a google form that includes a simple 5 point scale from Sometimes to Consistently for each of the 12 criteria. A definition of each criteria is also included. Also, after ERO visited last year, where they had a national focus review topic related to the attestation for fully registering teachers, they recommended that I include in this process a place for teachers to show evidence to support their ratings on the 5 point scale. This has been included and is a really positive development from previous versions. Here is the full form for you to have a look at.

practicing-teacher-criteria-self-assessment-2016-eoy

The purpose is to capture where teachers are at and whether they are a 2 or a 5 is not important. What matters (on an individual level) is that teachers see where they need to be more effective and over time see progress across the different criteria. It is this growth that is especially important for me. Going backwards in your self-assessment rating is also OK and is often a sign that your knowledge of that criteria and all the implications that it entails has grown thus the scope of your reflection is broader and perhaps more critical.

So what happens to the data?  I pull the data out and create both individual and group spider diagrams (I think sometimes people also refer to these as radar charts). Group spider diagrams can be made for teams of teachers, management, whole school, PRTs etc what ever subgroups you have in your school you can look at the info related to them. These are shared within the leadership team at school, and with individually, along with their collated response to qualify and provide evidence of their rating, with teachers.

ptc-sa1
Individual teacher spider showing 2015 and 2016 self-assessments.
ptc-sa2
Team of 4 teachers 2016 spider.
ptc-sa3
Doc shared with individual teacher with a record of the evidence.

What happens next? I encourage teachers to upload these to their professional blogs in order for them to become an artefact in their ongoing collection of evidence to support their next practicing certificate renewal. The outcomes of the self-assessment are also discussed as part of a teacher’s end of year appraisal checkpoint meeting. As a leadership team we discuss the outcomes and what this looks like across the whole staff and in the teams of teachers. Any trends are identified and we look at how we can support teachers to develop further in the identified areas.

Next steps in the approach? This is yet to be fully completed for this year and as such the review is ongoing. I had planned for teachers to do this twice a year, mid and end, however due to a number of factors I cancelled the mid point review. I question if once a year is enough and I think it is… but only if teachers have an inquiring mindset and are reflective. Also, if there are other ways that teachers are acknowledging their growth against the PTCs as we do via any evidence uploaded to a teacher’s professional blogs, then doing it once a year is a formal acknowledgement of an ongoing process and enough.

I have also thought that including the cultural competencies from Tātaiako would be a very useful extension to the process.

The minor tweak made after ERO’s suggestion was a useful and easy addition to make to the process. I am sure that these minor tweaks will continue to add to the value of this process.

Reviewing our School Values

The New Zealand Curriculum describes values as deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable. They are expressed through the ways in which people think and act.

This year I am facilitating a full review of our school values, a process that is recognised strategically by the Board, along with a review of our school vision, as a priority area. Why? Well here are a few of the reasons. Our desire is to have our school values;

  • visible around the school
  • articulated by learners, parents and staff
  • actively modelled by learners, parents and staff
  • used to frame up/underpin learning, expectations and behaviour
  • provide a starting point in our decision making process.

There is currently little to no evidence of this taking place and this gap has guided our review and development in this area. To start this process we have based the conversations around a set of 3 core questions:

  1. What is important and desirable in our school?
  2. How should our students be thinking and acting?
  3. What is to be encouraged, modelled, explored?

Taking these 3 questions we have had meetings and conversations as a staff, with our parents, at our whānau hui, and what I believe is most important, with our learners. Outcomes from some of these meetings are shown below.

values1 values2
Students getting their ideas down on paper.
values6 values5
Our parents prioritising and defining what is important to them. Thoughts from a staff member.

As you can probably imagine this led to a huge number and variety of concepts as the different groups documented what was really important to them. Through a process of grouping similarly themed ideas for each of the different groups and ordering them in terms of their popularity, then repeating that process after all the groups’ ideas were pooled together, a final list of 13 values were put on the table.

There was lots of rich discussion and questioning along the way, e.g.

  • Is that a value or a skill?
  • What does that mean to you as I think of it meaning something different?
  • Isn’t that a concept that sits over the top of those values?
  • Do we really need respect as a value? Is that just a non-negotiable anyway?

values-voting-paperGoing back to the NZC definition was our guiding light and kept us on track. Additionally perhaps the most important aspect of this process was to take a lot of time agreeing on a definition of each of the shortlisted values so that when we communicated these to the students, parents and community there was a clear statement by what was meant by that term. We hoped that this would clarify any misunderstandings.

Perhaps the most challenging part was how best to integrate the thoughts of our whānau into this process. They suggested that manaakitanga (caring, looking out for each other), whanaungatanga (treat everyone as your family) and kotahitanga (being as one, the same, treating everyone as the same) were the values that should guide everybody and everything at school. We have no disagreement with these and without question they will be included in the final make-up.

As we don’t yet know what our values framework will look like when it is ‘presented’ to our learners and community (e.g. represented through a visual form like a local landmark, tree etc, or as an acronym). When we offered the shortlisted values to the community we showed how manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and kotahitanga related to them, without yet knowing how these will be shown by the end of the review and development process.

So where to now? The voting process is drawing to a close so the votes will need to be counted. We are still discussing a number of questions including;

  • If we believe that the students’ voice is crucially important, do their votes count more than others?
  • Or, should it be just a straight vote and the what comes out on top are the ones that are selected?
  • What is the best number of values to have? Is it a case of less is more?

Once decided, they next step is to develop a framework to ‘hang’ the values off. We are currently working with our local iwi Ngati Kauwhata to better understand the history and traditions associated with the local area. We are hoping that this will support us in developing a visual representation of the values.

 

 

A Model of Distributed Feedback..?

An interesting idea was discussed at my principal PLG today related to giving feedback. As the conversation developed the notion of feedback, and how it is delivered and received, could be used as a measure for a truly distributed leadership model. It certainly got me thinking. Not sure what I mean? An explanation is required…

The conversation started after a reflective exercise related to our shared text, Thanks for the Feedback. Using a PAGE template to respond to the text it reinforced what I know already – that giving feedback to staff is not a strength of mine and an area that I need to improve.

I unpacked this further, suggesting that my personality was not naturally tuned in to feedback giving and it was something that felt unnatural and was very hard to do -especially the warm fuzzy type. For me this relates more to the ongoing, informal, just in time feedback as more formalised feedback through observations, and coaching sessions for example, sit more comfortably with me. I know other people are much more natural at providing feedback and it seems to be just part of their how they roll.

There were a general agreement of this and round the table and we could identify with one type or the other, or somewhere in-between.

Then the question was asked, do I need to be? In the situation where I am part of the senior leadership team – do I need to be good at the ongoing, informal, just in time feedback, as well as all other types of feedback?

If someone in the leadership team assumes this role instead (i.e. they are good at the warm fuzzies) – is that OK?

The first question that arose from that was this; Is feedback perceived, either intentionally or not, that it is more important if it comes from the principal? Perhaps that it simply an assumption that I have made.

So, let’s take the scenario where their are 3 people who make up a school’s leadership team. Two of these are great at coaching other teachers and get them to thinking deeply about their practice. They function best in a 1-1 context, listening, prompting and helping to identify next steps. This is their strength – unlike the third member of the team who finds this challenging. However, the third person is great at the ongoing, informal, just in time feedback. They fill the gap the other two leaders leave, giving staff that feel-good factor and acknowledgement. In other words, the giving of feedback is distributed among the leaders, working to their strengths and personalities.

So what would need to be in place in order for this to happen

Firstly, I think you need to know your teachers well. What presses their buttons, how, where and when they like to receive feedback. Perhaps undertaking some kind of personality test or analysis (like the DiSC model I have previously used) to enable everyone to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviours to others and vice versa, is a must.

Secondly, going back to the question; Is feedback perceived, either intentionally or not, that it is more important if it comes from the principal? If this is true, then this will be required to change to a culture where feedback from anyone is sort out and valued. I think this would be a great discussion point with staff – maybe it is just an assumption I have made.

This brings us all back round to the notion of feedback, and how it is delivered and received, could be used as a measure for a truly distributed leadership model. The suggestion is that if you have a truly distributed model of leadership, then feedback given by the leadership team, for whatever purpose, has equal weighting no matter who it is from.

Leadership Goal Elevator Pitch Reflection

The end of the year and my performance management cycle is coming to a close. My principal PLG is a regular forum where we all share progress towards our leadership goals and with the last one for the year approaching we are using the elevator pitch strategy to share progress related to one of our goals.

Now our elevator is pretty slow so we have 5 minutes to make our pitches interesting, memorable and succinct, using a framework of subheadings to guide our reflections;

  • My goals is…
  • I have made impact on students/staff by…
  • My main leadership learning has been…
  • I will continue to work on…

My goal is…

1.2 Performance Objective
Lead the development & implementation of key systems to support improved outcomes for priority learners.

Expected Outcomes

  • Accelerated progress is apparent for priority learners
  • A planned & co-ordinated approach to investigating, planning & monitoring effective practices for priority learners is established
  • Teachers demonstrate the ability to inquire into & adapt their practice for priority learners in an ongoing way

I have made impact on students/staff by…

Students

  • Actively including them in the fact finding and intervention decision making process. Staff were released to capture student voice, work with students to draw learning maps and ask them questions related to learning and what works for them and doesn’t. Some of the outcomes from this include increased voice and choice for learners in their learning.
  • More clarity/transparency for them around what they need to do in order to progress. This was enabled through classroom discussion, learning conferences, access to their own achievement data (e.g. e-asTTle), revised written reporting formats with clarity around next steps, changes to classroom programme (e.g. self managed timetables, workshops).
  • For the majority of priority learner cohorts identified in our achievement plan progress has been noticeable. For example:
    • In reading, 14 students were identified from 2015 data, 10 have made accelerated progress (71%).
    • In writing, 18 students were identified, 10 have made accelerated progress  (56%).
    • In maths, 20 students were identified, 18 have made accelerated progress (90%).
    • Of those who have not accelerated, only 1 student is a real cause for concern as there has been little to no progress, even with increased tiers of support.

Staff

  • Our priority learners were agended into staff, team and leadership meetings, ensuring that their needs were kept on top and that actions to addressing their needs were reflected on in an ongoing and collaborative way i.e. raising student achievement is a whole school responsibility, not just one teachers.
  • TAI practices were re-introduced and further built on, highly valued to acknowledge the importance of an ongoing and reflective professional inquiry.
  • Teachers were expected to make informed decisions about the impact of the teaching based on achievement data, student voice, feedback from colleagues, and critical self reflection including videoing their own teaching.
  • Teachers were asked to consider and discuss the implications of an equity v. equality approach to addressing the needs of our priority learners.
  • Staff increased their professional knowledge and capability around the use of a broad range of assessment tools to inform decisions related to teaching and learning.
  • Conversations regarding priority learners changed to be about learning not behaviour.

My main leadership learning has been…

  • Importance of focusing all changes and professional learning centred around students and improving their outcomes. i.e. don’t do it for me, do it for your learners.
  • Getting the pace of change right and balancing this with the;
    • wellbeing of staff and workloads
    • amongst the other needs across all areas of review and development
    • time for teachers to embed practices
    • culture of growth mindsets, recognising change happens a different paces for everyone.
  • Acknowledging the huge value in the ongoing review of what and why we do things, acknowledging when things haven’t gone to plan, and being flexible and adaptive to change.
  • Giving value/resourcing  to teachers coming together to have professional based dialogue during the school day.
  • Being patient.

I will continue to work on…

  • Gaining a deeper understanding of the staff in order to better recognise, utilise and accommodate their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Providing more effective feedback across a range of forums, in order to support teachers in becoming more effective in their roles.
  • Explore a more personalised approach to TAI, professional learning and appraisal/accountability.
  • Further exploring professional collaborative practices and opportunities.
  • Continuing to prioritise our priority learners but consciously use a gradual release of responsibility model as practices are normalised.

So there’s the pitch. Quite an easy, quick and worthwhile strategy to pull together the key points related to progress towards a goal. I would certainly consider using it with my staff as another reflective approach as part of the TAI process.

 

Thoughts on implications for variability in teacher effectiveness…

hattieThis post is an initial reaction to a recent read of Hattie’s What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise and some conversations at my principal PLG.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, would have been great to have this publication in my hands when I was completing the lit review for my final masters paper, never-the-less I have found it a thought provoking read that I am still fully understanding all of the implications and takeaways for my situation.

For me, the main purpose of the piece is to suggest a set of conditions i.e. collaborative expertise, to counter the known variability of teacher effectiveness within schools.

There are many causes of this variance within schools, but I would argue that the most important (and one that we have some influence to reduce) is the variability in the effectiveness of teachers. I don’t mean to suggest that all teachers are bad; I mean that there is a great deal of variability among teachers in the effect that they have on student learning. (Hattie, 2015, p. 1)

I really like the grounding concept discussed which clearly sets out that the effectiveness ‘measure’ of the teacher is progress made by students, not simply students meeting standards of achievement. This is a great reminder and reinforcer especially in the era of line-in-the-sand achievement milestones where learning progress is not always seen, or maybe overshadowed by a tick in the Below or Well Below column.

Other highlights, there are lots and I am not doing them justice here, but here’s a snapshot: importance of moderation, high expectations, the use of smart assessment tools, discussion about assessing more than just the basics but also the how-to aspects of learning, the role of the school leader in creating an evaluative climate, use of student voice to evaluate impact of teaching, that if students are not learning we need to change the way we teach and of course the underlying principle of using the expertise of effective teachers to lift teaching across the educational community.

Anyway, my train of thought went off on a tangent and began exploring what this meant for teacher appraisal, performance management, professional inquiry and professional learning and development, especially after this discussion:

Yes, the essence of many teachers’ sense of professionalism is their autonomy to teach as they wish. But they do not have a right to such autonomy if they are not systematically teaching in a manner where the majority of their students gain at least a year’s progress for a year’s input.

So this got me thinking, that with a variety in teacher effectiveness, that amongst other things, there must also be a variety in the way teachers are appraised and monitored, variety in what professional learning and development they receive, variety of expectations surrounding their professional inquiry, and a variety in the length of the “leash” of professional trust. These thoughts are not new to me, but reading this publications has brought them back to the top.

Of course in my mind this mirrors what we should see happening with our students, that learning is personalised to their needs, they know where their strengths and weaknesses, set goals and critically reflect on their progress, to have a growth mindset, the list goes on..

So what could this look like for me, relatively fresh into the current school I am leading?

Currently, for better or for worse, there is generally a one size fits all approach where teachers have them same expectations and checkpoints, and opportunities for PLD as each other. The is the same minimum expectation for collecting assessments – the key word is consistency. Some of the thinking behind this is that a lot of this has come about to establish some norms and expectations to a new way of thinking and new approaches to building teacher effectiveness. Teacher inquiry is still in its infancy, there is a new assessment regime, and a clear focus on our priority learners. In establishing these the strategy has been a consistent one.

The only real opportunity for teachers to have choice and direct their learning is within the approach to teacher inquiry where there is scope for them to determine the focus and plan the interventions. I guess this happens though within quite a tight structure. However the intent here is to take in a gradual release of responsibility approach i.e. pull in the reins before letting them go, over time, full stem ahead, but only if they demonstrate their participation and understanding (effectiveness?). We have also budgeted for teachers to have a PLO (personal learning opportunity), where they are released to engage in their own choice of PLD such as a school visit/observations, talking to experts, engaging in professional reading…

Some questions though arise the more I think, for example:

  • How will teachers react when some receive more PLD than others, based on their effectiveness as a teacher? (think equity vs. equality debate)
  • How so when some get ‘appraised’ more often than others?
  • When some get the own PLD budget to utilise, while some are ‘required’ to attend certain PLD opportunities?
  • Is my thinking being constrained by my mental image of what PLD looks like? By what appraisal looks like?

I would hope that a purely professional viewpoint would be taken by everyone as they acknowledge that everyone has different needs (and as mentioned above, just like the learners in their class).

Where to next is the closing ponder. It was suggested to me today that the future of PLD is in 1-1 coaching, personalised to each teacher. This conceptually fits with the direction my mind is going in. I am committed to exploring this further, finding schools who have a personalised approach but also ones that haven’t lost sight of the power of collaboration. Thus any future design would still need to incorporate opportunities to come together for dialogue and that collective problem solving and sharing of expertise, all within a personalised approach first and foremost. I find the thoughts quite exciting and the future direction full of possibilities. Who out there has already started the journey – I would love to connect with you…

 

 

 

How to Assess or Not to Assess

We are currently reviewing our assessment and reporting schedule, asking ourselves if we assess the right things, at the right time, using the right tool.

We recognise we assess for different purposes; for the learner, for the teacher, for the parents, board, Ministry… there are no arguments there. We also acknowledge very clearly that students should be integral to the assessment process and as much as possible direct it and ultimately have the agency to know/request/use for their own learning.

This post is not about that side of things (or maybe it is and I haven’t made the link yet), instead an emerging theme is entering into our discussions related to the mechanics of completing some of the assessments. Let me try and explain this theme with a fictitious example…

Teacher A: Teacher A knows that that by the end week 8 they should have completed a JAM of all their students. As the assessment is required by week 8 they hold off completing any until the start of week 6, then go for it, intensely over a 2 week period to get them done. There is some disruption to classroom programme in order to make it happen.

Teacher B: Teacher B also has the same deadline in week 8. They have a different approach. Right from the beginning of the term, they start their JAMs, completing as required, usually 2-3 a week, starting with those learners who are a priority and the next steps for them are needed right now. There is minimal disruption to the normal classroom programme.

What is best? Does it matter? Perhaps if I try and explore the assumed beliefs that drive their learning, it may shed more light on it.

Teacher A: Teacher A believes that it is important that assessments are completed close together. This way they are more reliable and bring greater accuracy to teaching especially when making comparisons between learners for purposes such as grouping students in your classroom. They are driven by a do-more-less-often approach and the disruption to the classroom programme is outweighed by the value of the assessment information.

Teacher B: Teacher B understands the need for deadlines but does not necessarily agree with them, but they are a professional and do what is required. They look at each student as an individual and as much as possible want to personalise their learning. They are driven by a do-little-and-often approach that responds to the individual needs of the learners. They value the information the assessment provides for them and the learner.

I am more like teacher B than A. As a new entrant teacher I used to have my folder with a section for each student where there was an alphabet name/sound recognition, basic word lists and current running record for each student. Every day, during silent reading or pack up, or if there was a moment during the literacy programme I would call the next learner on the list up or the one I needed to assess. I did this because I needed this information to inform my teaching, I couldn’t wait for it. Students progressed at different speeds, so an ongoing, needs based assessment appraoch was required and the most effective. Even when I taught Year 7/8s for a term a couple of years ago, I used the same approach with my Probes and GloSS.

As I reflect on this now I have noted why I did it this way, and why I would continue to do so if I were be be back in the classroom…

  • completing little assessments often made it manageable and easy to meet those assessment checkpoints/expectations
  • it gave me the flexibility to assess my learners when they needed it most, especially those who you are monitoring more closely or those that you get that hunch about
  • it allowed the assessment to be a normalised part of the classroom programme, rather than something that was compartmentalised a fitted into a particular time slot
  • I it meant that the individual needs of the learner drove the assessment process first and foremost
  • it reinforced that assessment tools have value but there is greater value on the day-to-day learning conversations and observations taking place every moment of every day… and with minimal to no disruption caused by doing a little bit often, it made more time for the real stuff.

As my thoughts wander I am thinking that maybe we should introduce a 3rd teacher too.

Teacher C has the same deadlines described above however they work in a flexible learning space with 2 others teachers. As part of the way they organise their timetable, assessment time is built into each day’s timetable so at least 1 teacher has the time to complete any required assessments while the other 2 manage the learning of the students. Teacher C also happens to lead the maths learning in this collaborative team so she assumes responsibility for all maths assessments, undertaking testing, sharing outcomes both individually with teachers and collectively to analyse any trends. Teacher C beliefs that assessment is a collaborative exercise, that responds to students need and uses the collective expertise of the teachers to analyse data and plan next steps.

There are so many different teaching/assessment scenarios that you could illustrate to add to the dialogue around this theme. I do not expect my teachers to be clones of one another and I acknowledge that there is no right approach, but I do think there are ways you can work that are smarter and that keep learners and learning at the centre. So what do I really want though? Ideally I want to rip up/delete our schedule because:

  • teachers have the knowledge, skills and understanding (confidence?) to use the right assessment tool at the right time to best meet the needs of their learners
  • I have the professional trust to give teachers that agency
  • assessment should be meaningful, timely, and driven by the needs of the learners, not driven by a document or standard
  • as teachers naturally inquire into their practice, they need data to check the effectiveness of their actions.

Thoughts of adaptive expertise are coming into my head now, and one particular slide (#17) from a presentation called Schooling Improvement: What do we know? Perhaps Teacher A is caught in parts of routine expertise, Teacher A is beginning on the adapting pathway?

slide17
Schooling Improvement: What do we know? Helen Timperley Professor of Education The University of Auckland New Zealand.

I guess that as I ponder what this all means, if anything at all, I will continue to review what we do for or assessment. It is part of our ongoing review, changes have already been made in terms of teacher feedback, and now as we compare what we do alongside what others school do, it will only bring more clarity to the process of finding out what works best for us, in our school with our students. But, changing a few mindsets along the way will not be a bad thing…

Collaborative Inquiry

The Master of Ed is all done and dusted now with the submission of the final assignment at the end of last year. The assignment, not a full blown thesis but rather a more manageable double credit professional inquiry paper, focused on Professional Collaborative Inquiry and Technology.

The driving force for the inquiry was to support my belief that professional inquiry (aka teacher as inquiry in NZ), is significantly enhanced through a collaborative model where teachers and school leaders work alongside each other to share, discuss and analyse problems of practice and together, using their collective expertise, plan, implement and review a range of approaches to improve outcomes for their learners. Especially relevant too in schools adopting a team teaching/innovative learning environment approach.

It seems so logical and simple and there is plenty of research to support such an approach, yet I believe there are still high proportions of schools where teachers are inquiring in isolation. Problems of practice should be owned by the whole school, not by one teacher!

If you are interested in reading my report, here it is.

So what about the implications and flow on effect into my leadership practice. Completing this report only confirmed my beliefs around the collaborative approach and it is now embedded within our school’s professional inquiry and performance management process.

We view teaching as inquiry as the foundation of professional learning and development and we are emphasising teachers engaging in a collaborative teacher inquiry alongside each other and their learners.

Learner involvement is a key ingredient, and something that through the research was not strongly documented. I believe that the best person to talk about their learning is the learner and their thinking about what would make them improve is vital in developing theories of improvement.

Our inquiry is designed to happen on 2 levels; collaboration between teachers, and, collaboration between teachers and learners. (One immediate question you may ask is “Where do the parents fit into it?” and is a good one, but for this context the focus was on the inquiry, with how and when we collaborate with parents is documented in a complimentary system).

ci-model

Working in partnership with other teachers will allow for collaborative; Working in partnership with learners will allow for;
  • data collection and analysis
  • problem solving
  • developing theories of improvement
  • planning and goal setting
  • observation and feedback
  • team teaching
  • review and reflection
  • development and sharing of replicable approaches.
  • learner voice and learner choice
  • active learner involvement in decision making about their learning
  • personalised and differentiated learning
  • opportunities for self directed learning
  • ako (reciprocal learning)
  • whanaungatanga (relationships)

The diagram above is an attempt to visualise this approach, with more thinking and development to come.

Perhaps one of the best resources that has shaped my thinking has been this text:

Temperley, J., & Street, H. (2005). Improving Schools Through Collaborative Enquiry. London: Continuum.

It provides ample background into the why of collaboration, not only within schools but between schools. I would suggest anyone who is part of or currently planning for a Community of Learning should definitely read this book, and anyone looking at reviewing or implementing collaborative practices in their own school would find great value in it.

Since having completed this paper and introduced some change, two publications have since crossed my desk which and additional weight to my the collaborative approach is a must. These are the ERO report Raising student achievement through targeted actions and Hattie’s What Works Best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise.

More to come on what these mean for us and our learners.

Agency – teaching jargon destined for overuse?

I have blogged about the concept of student agency before as I continue to explore what it means to me, my practice and in terms of leading a school.

I have to be honest and say that I am disappointed that it seems as though agency and agentic have become the new trendy phrases in schools destined for overuse and misuse. Reminds me of the term life-long learning or 21st century learners which was dropped into every conversation and used to encompass everything associated with current effective approaches to teaching and learning. It got to the point where many cringed when the words were used.

So now the urge to do so is back with teachers describing their practice as supporting agentic learners, a point which I would question. I would suggest that perhaps a lack of professional learning has led to this happening with the phrase being coined without a full understanding behind it. Perhaps that is a little harsh and on a continuum of developing agentic learners they are simply at the initial developmental end. Maybe my understanding is what is a fault or I can’t get beyond the pureness of agency.

This post has been prompted by a couple of discussions where people have described their agentic practices. For example, Teacher A having a ‘Must Do Can Do’ approach in their classroom suggesting this is student agency, or Teacher B stating a ‘reading contract’ type approach (filled with teacher generated activities) as being agentic. I do not see that simply providing an element of choice = agency, especially when these are secondary often unmonitored activities that play a distant second place to instructional learning directly with a teacher.

So here is my attempt to define what makes agentic learning from my perspective, not based on any research, just a what’s on top, Friday evening, as I dig deeper into this area.

Firstly, a couple of key concepts that guide my thinking.

  1. The foundation for student agency is teaching and learning grounded in assessment for learning practices.
  2. We need to remove the assumption that quality learning only happens when students are working directly with a teacher.

Let me take a little time to unpack those further.

The foundation for student agency is teaching and learning grounded in assessment for learning practices. In order for any student to be agentic they need to know what they are learning and why, what success looks like and what they need to do to get there. To take it a step further in order to be agentic, this process is directed by the learner, for the learner, but not in isolation and not without the act of supporting other learners and learning. Something like this…

Standard Practice Agentic Practice
  • Teacher using data to determine next steps in learning for students
  • Teacher finding examples/exemplars of learning that demonstrates expectations, goals, focus points
  • Teacher co-constructing success criteria with students
  • Teacher identifying teaching points and addressing them throughout learning.
  • Teacher and peers providing feedback and next steps.
  • Self-assessments by learner.
  • Student uses data to determine next steps in their learning.
  • Student sources examples of the learning or expertise to focus and guide.
  • Student develops their own personalised success criteria.
  • Student identifies where support is required and seeks support/feedback from the best person to guide them
  • Self-assessments/monitoring embedded throughout
  • Student recognises other students’ learning and supports this through effective personalised feedback/forward, questioning

It would be fair to say that many teachers, certainly that I know of, implement parts of the 2nd column, but I don’t know any (myself included!) that have reached the stage where all of it is happening consistently and is the norm. Maybe because the following concept was not in place..?

We need to remove the assumption that quality learning only happens when students are working directly with a teacher. Most educators are familiar with the concept of a flipped classroom, where content is provided prior the lesson enabling rich discussion and learning activities that use rather than learn the content. Take that concept and adapt it to working with the teacher/working independently in class. Traditionally we would place emphasis on time with the teacher, with the independent activities practicing and reinforcing already learnt content and skills.

What if that was flipped over and teachers instead emphasised and prioritised the independent activities? Is this not when the teacher truly becomes the coach and facilitator of learning, deliberately allowing for agency to be developed? This approach is a fundamental change, and one that I would suggest requires a very knowledgeable and effective teacher, with the ability to design independent contexts that are personalised, challenging, that require the students to make decisions about their learning, in an environment or culture where everyone is supporting each other to develop their own process of agency.

I am not an expert in this area but the concept of agency is something that fits very comfortably with my beliefs on teaching and learning. My thoughts may be at odds with others in terms of what agency is.

However, I just hope that when the terms is used it is used appropriately and knowledgeably, otherwise I fear it will join the scrap heap of overused education jargon before the full potential of the concept has been given the time to embed itself if the everydayness of teaching and learning.

Sometimes I wonder if the removal of professional learning programmes such as Assess to Learn (AtoL) was a big step away from the foundations and principles of what we want our students to do and become.

Our Approach to Managing iPads and Apps

This post provides a summary of our school’s solution to managing our mobile devices and apps. It is appropriate for both school owned and students owned devices and deploying both free and paid apps. It is also a very simple way of easily maintaining a record (i.e. an asset register) of all your computers and devices including their serial number, model, OS’s etc and additionally being able to perform actions remotely to them.

In our situation we have school owned iPads, ASUS netbooks and iMacs in classes, a range of iPod Touches and iPads through BYOD, and MacBook teacher laptops. We wanted to monitor school owned devices and be able to deploy apps to school and BYOD iOS devices. This will outline what we do to achieve it. There are probably better ways, but when you are just a small school with no technician and the principal assumes the role network manager, service manager… you find something that saves time, you go for it. Is it perfect? No. Has it saved time and centralised control of devices and apps? Yes. Any advice is welcomed.

What you need:

What we did:

  1. Create your school Apple Store Apple VPP account. We created two school email addresses (and Apple IDs) for this purpose, one for the VPP Manager (e.g. vpp@yourschool.school.nz) and one for a VPP Facilitator (e.g. vpp-fac@yourschool.co.nz). The VPP Manager gives the authority for Facilitators to purchase apps for the organisation. This could be an existing email/Apple ID but we created another specifically for this purpose. The Facilitator Apple ID is the one you used to make Apple VPP purchases and we also use it for our  Apple Push Certificate registration.
    • Tip: When setting your Apple IDs, make sure you uncheck the Apple News and Announcements, New on iTunes and Other iTunes Offers, always enter the same security questions and answers, DOB etc
  2. Create your free Meraki Systems Manager account. Just use your normal school email address (i.e. principal@…). When you have access to your Dashboard, navigate to the MDM (Mobile Device Management) section and to Add devices. Download the software installers for Windows and OS X and also note down your Network ID for enrolling your iOS devices.
    • Tip: Don’t use a name based email address (i.e. nick@…) as these do not always have a life beyond the user who may not be around for ever.
  3. Create and set up your Apple Push Certificate. Step by step instructions are provided via the Meraki Dashboard (go to Organisation then MDM) and the Meraki Knowledge Base.
    • Tip: Use your VPP Facilitator Apple ID for this purpose.
  4. Set up your OS X and Windows devices by installing the downloaded software from Step 2. Once installed, the devices will appear in your Meraki Dashboard under Monitor and then Clients. After a while all the machine’s details are visible in the list and you can then explore the additional functionality of Meraki. This is all you need to do for your OS X and Windows environments.
    • Tip: For OS X machines, this software can be installed and deployed when you re-image a machine. Rather than plodding around and installing this one by one, just wait for the next re-imaging.
    • Tip: Unfortunately, for Windows machines, it’s not so simple as it doesn’t work from an image and you need to remotely/manually install it.
  5. Use Apple Configurator to create and set up your school owned iOS devices. There is plenty of online support for this as well as the the built in Help. We have one profile for all devices which includes a range of free apps and settings etc that are common to all devices.
    • Tip: One thing we do in Apple Configurator is to assign each device/iPad to a ‘user’. The user names are sequential (i.e. ODS iPad 1, ODS iPad 2 etc) and have a user profile picture (the school logo). What this means is that when you turn on/wake up your device, it displays the school logo with its unique name – a really simple way of labelling devices.
    • Tip: To keep the iOS device management separate from other uses for our computers, we set up a new user/account on one of our laptops exclusively for using Apple Configurator. This keeps it clean and tidy and avoids clashes between personal Apple IDs etc.
    • Tip: If you don’t have a syncing dock/cart for your devices, get yourself a decent USB hub that allows you to configure multiple devices at once. Being restricted to do only one or two at a time is not good!
  6. Create an email address for each of your iOS devices which will be used for their Apple ID. Super easy in GAFE by uploading the template .csv file with multiple user info.
    • Tip: Keep your emails aligned to your device name e.g. if you named your devices iPad 01, iPad 02 etc then logically emails will be ipad01@…, ipad02@… etc.
    • Tip: An extra step, not absolutely necessary but in the long term will save time, set these email accounts up so they forward all emails to a catch-all address. We use the VPP Facilitator email to receive all the forwarded emails.
  7. Once you have prepared, supervised and assigned your iOS devices we need to setup their unique Apple ID. The best way we have found to do this is by manually completing the process on each iPad. This way you can avoid the step of having to enter in any credit card details. Simply go to the App Store on the iPad and find a free app you want to download (or any free app as you don’t actually have to download it). When prompted for an Apple ID, follow the prompts to create one, using your email address created in the previous step. You need to authenticate the email address, so log in to your catch-all Apple ID email and complete the process.
    • Tip: As already mentioned, when setting your Apple IDs, make sure you uncheck the Apple News and Announcements, New on iTunes and Other iTunes Offers, always enter the same security questions and answers, DOB etc.
  8. Now we need to enrol the devices in Meraki Systems Manager. Open up Safari on the device and navigate to m.meraki.com and follow the prompts to enter in your Network ID and install your Meraki profile (if you want to deploy apps to student owned devices you need to complete this step on those devices too). Once this process has completed, the device will appear in your Meraki Dashboard under Monitor and then Clients. You can then edit the device details by adding tags, owners etc.
    • Tip: There is also a QR code in Meraki Systems Manager to enrol devices.
    • Tip: Tags are really important as this is how you deploy apps out to devices. Take the time to think about how you will tag them. We tag them predominantly by room, as our iPads are based in rooms but also tag them individually for finer deployment as required.
  9. Now you are all set to go and manage your devices and deploy apps both paid and free.
  10. To deploy free apps, simply go to your Meraki Dashboard, MDM and then Apps followed by + Add new. Search for and then add apps and assign them to iPads using tags. Meraki will push these apps out to the assigned devices. The devices will automatically prompt for the Apple ID password and the download will commence.
    • If the process doesn’t work for any reason, you can re-push out apps to the devices at any stage.
  11. To deploy paid apps, purchase them through the Apple VPP site. We exclusively use Managed Distribution which enables us to assign apps to individual Apple IDs/devices. That way we retain ownership of all apps, allowing us to revoke and reassign them as needed, even to BYODs. Once a VPP purchase is confirmed, it will appear in your Meraki Dashboard under MDM and then VPP. Then you can assign it to an Apple ID, add it to your apps list and push it out to the devices.
    • Tip: On the devices you can also go to the App Store app and find your list of purchased apps (i.e. those assigned to you). They will be listed there and you can initiate the download manually.

That’s the basic outline of what we do. Hopefully you may find it useful. As mentioned, any advice as to how we can streamline the process further would be great!

Teacher Inquiry – have we got the right timeframe?

We made a deliberate decisions this year to split our professional inquiries into two distinct parts, aligned to the professional development we were engaging in as a staff. Term 1 & 2 – an inquiry focused on literacy, Term 3 & 4 – an inquiry focused on maths. As we have wrapped up our literacy inquiries and transitioned from one inquiry to the next, the conversations have centred around the legitimacy of short term inquiries vs annual inquiries and whether either of these approaches are an authentic approach that really enables teachers to inquire into an aspect of their professional practice and result in embedded change. The question I pose is:

Are we limiting the effectiveness and impact of our inquires by constraining them to set timeframes?

Some background first… When I reflect on the professional inquiries I engaged in as a teacher, these were tied into the annual process of appraisal, starting in Term 1 and concluding in Term 4. The following year a new inquiry commences and so on. Similarly, as a principal I have facilitated teachers inquiring into their practice on an annual cycle as part of their performance management. I would suggest that this is a common approach in many NZ schools.

Constraining learning to time limits is a habit in education… but one that is increasingly being challenged in a more flexible and personalised approach to learning and how learning is managed. Not sure what I mean? Just think of your classic daily timetable in a classroom, 10 minutes silent reading, then 45 mins for reading, followed by 15 minutes of handwriting after which we go out for 15 minutes of fitness. Or perhaps think of the times your students are so engaged and focused on their learning only to be interrupted by the bell or ‘needing’ to move to the another area.

Sometimes time is the enemy, it constrains or limits what we can do. What we can learn.

Let’s transfer that thinking to our professional inquiries which generally go from Term 1 to 4, aligned to a similarly scheduled appraisal process. It makes sense, an individual inquiry is often focused on a target group of students which are in your class, its relevancy is based on the now, related to recently collected and analysed data. Its convenient, it fits with how we organise the school year, works with fixed term positions, allows us to come together as teachers on the same pathway and summarise our findings at the end of the year.

I just wonder though that we are pushing through inquiries too quickly and that changing the focus on an annual basis takes away what could be a richness and depth of inquiry leading to greater outcomes of effective teaching and impacts on student learning. That is not to say that a Term 1-4 inquiry does not have depth and impact, it is a prompt to consider what would happen if we keep building on our developing knowledge over time and at the saturation point we move on, not just because it is the end of the year.

So this may lead to a diversity of inquiries, with agentic teachers driving and managing their own learning. There would be multiple inquires, starting and finishing at different times, adapting to needs, responsive to mastery.

Sounds pretty much like our expectations for learners and learning in our future focused classrooms…

More questions than answers here but a good space for further thinking and investigation. Thanks to Bede for a conversation that prompted some of the thoughts above.