Play based learning… played based professional learning?

Recently our staff took part in a day long workshop focused on play based learning run by the very knowledgeable team from Longworth Education. I found the workshop very worthwhile, providing a valuable pedagogical base and framework to support what is seemingly an aspect of education that is currently having a high profile in NZ primary education.

My mind wandered as it always does during any professional learning experience to how this new knowledge can impact my role as the lead learner and principal and my school. Throughout the day, 3 wonderings rose up above the others.

  • The potential of a play based professional learning approach.
  • The essential element of teacher expertise in coaching guided play.
  • The importance of male teachers in play based learning environments???

This post will unpack the first point, elaborated here through a question…

How can the benefits of play based learning be utilised in a play based professional learning approach?

So let’s reference the folks from Longworth in how they describe the philosophy that drives play based learning.

http://www.longwortheducation.co.nz/

Now let’s change the context and think of this as a starting point for play based professional learning: thus, primarily, play based professional learning could be underpinned by it being:

  • self-chosen and self-directed;
  • process rather than product driven;
  • contains structures or rules established by the players [learners] themselves;
  • imaginative, non-literal and removed from reality;
  • occurs between those who are active, alert and non-stressed.

Does it still work? Do those statements sit comfortably with you in terms of your understanding of professional learning, (or perhaps more accurately, where you see you can transform/innovate in the professional learning space)? For me all but 1 do very nicely – I can’t seem to mould the imaginative, non-literal and removed from reality statement into a professional learning context. I know that any PL needs to be centred and targeted to improving outcomes for learners, as such, it can’t be removed from reality. Maybe in a thinking too literally.

The remaining 4 points dovetail very nicely into where I see PL moving… increasingly open and directed from the individual (but underpinned by the vision and strategic direction of the school), features a replicable process that can support other teachers in improving outcomes for their learners, is designed by and personalised for those involved (but is grounded in what we know about effective PL i.e. an inquiry approach), and is a strongly collaborative, and altogether creating an environment that supports the wellbeing of the staff.

On the topic of environments, let’s head back to Longworth and see what a played based learning environment is characterised by and then reword that for a played based PL approach.

http://www.longwortheducation.co.nz/

Play based professional learning is an environment where through play:

  • Teachers are in control of their own learning.
  • Teachers are active and fully engaged.
  • Teachers take part in rich conversations with their colleagues and their leaders.
  • Teachers choose and manipulate loose parts to enable them to engage in authentic learning.
  • Leaders are seen as facilitators, guiding and scaffolding the learning.
  • Leaders respond to the urges and the developmental stages of the teachers.
  • Leaders are able to link the learning in the play to the practicing teacher criteria/school’s vision & goals.

Once again, I prompt you to consider the above. What do you agree or disagree with? From my current thinking, all but one of them sits very comfortably with me and that is only a matter of clarification. That is the point referring to loose parts – however, if I look on loose parts as being components of PL such as; external expertise, professional texts, observations, feedback, visits, coaching, mentors, reflections etc then it makes complete sense and gets the big tick from me.

So the BIG question really is what would this/could this actually look like in practice? If you have read any of my thinking before I see professional learning, performance management & professional inquiry as synonymous with each other… now throw in some other recent thinking of mine related to the personalisation of professional learning, all of which is now infused with play. I think that is a really exciting place to explore..!

But, plenty more thinking to do in designing and discussing what this space could look like. So next I am on a quest to find out who else out there is wading through this space.

A quick Google has revealed the Institute of Play where “We are committed to empowering young people to navigate their way to a promising tomorrow by making learning irresistible. Join us in creating a movement to bring the power of play and design into every classroom”. This includes “Educator Programs: Research-based educator programs that integrate design and play”. A video outlines more. This does not fit exactly to my brief/thoughts, but it certainly helps channel and clarify my thinking.

Finally, as part of our leadership PLG here at school, we recently viewed the short video Locating Yourself – A Key to Conscious Leadership. Watch the whole thing, it is great and excellent for reviewing your leadership approach and avoiding a cup half empty view… What, you may ask, has that got to do with a play based professional learning approach?Well, take note of what is highlighted at around 2:15.

What do you think?

Learning Maps and Professional Inquiry

I have been a bit of a fan of Learning Maps ever since I was first introduced to the concept 4 or 5 years ago. They were introduced alongside the concept of student agency and putting the students in the driver’s seat of learning. I reflected on the use of the maps then and after recently attending a workshop with Infinity Learning, have appreciated how the concept has grown and developed over the years as teachers and Infinity have fine tuned the approach and worked on how to make them as effective as possible in contributing to the agentic learning we all strive for.

Attending the workshop also made me ponder how this could also be used with teachers and support their developing agency, as well support them to identify an area to work on in terms of an appraisal/professional inquiry goal. When using learning maps with the students we ask them to identify an area for change, what they will do to make these changes, and who will support them in this change. This is the very same process that teachers to go through as the initial part of their inquiry, after they have identified their target students.

So a plan was hatched and I asked teachers to create a learning map that was focused on how they meets the needs of their priority learners to help them identify what they do, what resources and tools they use, and who they seek out support from. Prior to them drawing the maps, teachers had already collected a range of assessment data to identify a group of target /priority learners. The process I used with teachers was the same as what we would use with students which is outlined via a link at the bottom of the post.

Here are some examples from teachers, complete with a few blurred out bits to make them as anonymous as possible. We used a template from Infinity which provides the prompts and scaffolds to support creating the maps and the conversation that need to be had.

The arrows are important to show the interactions between people, tools and places. After attending the workshop earlier in the year we starting using a new arrow, the zig zagging challenge arrow, which we also used when working with students. The challenge areas lead the way to identifying next steps and areas to work on. This is how we have encouraged the use of arrows to add more meaning to the maps.

A little bit of learning =
A lot of learning =
Learning comes in to me, and I give it back =
A challenge in my learning =  

Once the maps were created, they were shared with a colleague prompted by; What is the same? What is different? What are their challenges? before identifying an area for change.

  • What would you like to change to help you in your learning?
  • What would you want to do differently?

This is followed up by a conversations with me to clarify the area for change (not to change it as this takes away from the teacher owning the goal and the process). This in turn helps to identify the expected outcomes/indicators for their professional inquiry goal included in their appraisal.

I guess you could argue that it is quicker just to skip the map and go straight to the conversation to identify the goals and expected outcomes. However I think there is huge value in creating the maps; it puts the teacher in the driving seat, recording how they see their learning and the interactions, or lack of between all the different areas, and from that identifying areas for change. The visual nature of the process and outcome makes seeing gaps and successes straightforward. When two teachers/learners share their map and discuss the similarities and differences, and expand on their challenges together, the collaborative nature of inquiry is highlighted and utilised. The conversation with me just formalises the decisions that have already been made.

We have also used this process with the leadership team in terms of helping to clarify their leadership inquiry goal, although in our case, these had already been set with our external facilitator. The process for me was still worthwhile, it helped to clarify the people, networks and tools that currently supporting my learning in this area and most importantly reinforce what I new are the challenges – an ever growing list. I find the process of drawing very reflective in itself and once completed provides a great source for reflection and conversations. Here is my map, related to my goal of getting to know my learners.

So what next? Like with our students, we will revisit our maps and add to them throughout the year so they are a living record of how we progress and adapt to catering for our priority learners. These updates will again be shared and discussed with colleagues, referenced in our PLGs, and used as a resource for appraisal purposes.

For those who may be interested, here is the guide we developed when creating maps with our students, feel free to use as required, however I really do encourage you to go to a workshop or have one completed in your school by the gurus at Infinity Learning. It will provide you with all the missing theory and pedagogy behind the maps which has only been skimmed over here.

Getting to know my learners – DISC Profiles

One of my professional goals this year is to investigate a personalised approach to how I work with my staff with a particular focus on communication. Personalised as in getting to know them better, understanding their learning and teaching styles, their personality traits and preferences for such things as how they like to receive feedback, school admin communication and engaging in professional learning. I am after them be self-directed and empowered as a professional and because I know them better I can provide the environment that enables it.

There are a couple of reasons why this is important to me and more importantly, to the staff.

  • Firstly it is all about supporting a culture of trust and honesty within our school, understanding each other to a deeper level will help facilitate that process.
  • Secondly the anticipated benefits of improved communication between myself and the staff and between each other will improve as we will better understand how staff prefer to interact in such areas as mentioned above as well as; meetings , coaching/questioning, face to face, email, systems, documentation.
  • Additionally it is an attempt to mirror what we are working on and investigating as a staff, to make learning more personal for our learners and elevating the place of learner voice and choice in their learning. I don’t have a class so my learners are are the staff – I want them to have more voice a choice in their role as a teacher and self direct and take control of areas such as their professional learning.
  • Ultimately with enhanced communication and personalised approaches that suits everyone style, combined with empowered teachers will lead us to the end goal and our baseline measure of improving outcomes for our students.

To date this term I have been very open and honest with the staff, explaining to them my goal and the reason and thinking behind it.

One of the strategies or data gathering steps I have taken is to ask staff to complete a DISC Profile. This is something I have completed previously when I worked for CORE Ed and something I found useful. Although when I completed the DISC the first time round I was quite sceptical about the accuracy of the system to capture who I was. However, the outcome was pretty good, not perfect in every aspect but overall captured me accurately and made me understand myself better as a person, learner and leader.

Staff completed DISC online and their profile report was available straight away to download. 

Individual profiles place you on the DISC map then outline what this means and summarise the characteristics related to this profile. Additionally they outline how someone with this profile relates to the other quadrant and profile types which is very helpful when understanding what others preferences are and what you can do to adapt your ways of working with them.

You can also request a group report where all staff who participated are mapped and the group culture is discussed.

I have made the time to share my profile with the staff, going through it and acknowledging my style and preferences, the parts that captured me perfectly and those that I didn’t think were quite right. I wanted to model this process with them with the aim that they would also want to be open and honest about themselves and sharing their profile with others.

I have been processing this information and I am really intrigued as to how it is going to develop and where my inquiry will lead next. There are emerging questions, not necessarily related to the DISC profiles, which already challenge my existing mindset. Here are a couple of examples.

  • A much more experienced principal once gave me some advice about how ‘close’ to get to your staff. In their practice they deliberately maintained a distance between themselves and the rest of the staff but as you would expect, stayed professional at all times, took an interest in their life outside of school but did not dive right into it. I wonder if this approach hinders a leaders’ ability to really get to know their staff, to a point where there are no ‘filters’ applied in any context or discussion?
  • My second question relates to what I would have called an active participation in discussions whether at staff meetings or PLGs. I do, rightly or wrongly, currently have the expectation that all staff will contribute to our professional dialogue. However if in the act of getting to know my staff, I recognise there are a couple of teachers who have a strong preference for not participating in discussions or don’t like being asked questions directly? Yes there are different forums and groupings to gather their response in other ways, but a PLG potentially falls apart if people do not engage in the process.
  • Another question are the implications if, for example, the staff/leadership/teaching team you are currently part of, where all members had similar profile maps. Is this a positive that we are all ‘on the same wavelength’ and look at situations in a similar way, or is it more advantageous to have a blend of all profile types so that the lenses the group has on a situation covers all perspectives? From where I sit now, I can see a mix of profiles being the preferred option.

There are many more examples as I think about how best to personalise my approaches with staff. Important to acknowledge too that the use of DISC outlined above is only one way that I am gathering ‘data’ about everyone, as the ongoing observations and conversations of their work and life greatly contribute to what I know about them.

Where to next? I have yet to sit down and discuss with each staff the outcomes of their profile. This will allow them to have the ability to agree and disagree as well as clarify what they do prefer, especially in regards to communication which is the central focus of my inquiry. I know too of other principals who have spent a lot of time in this space so connecting with them will be a great way of providing additional insight on the direction this will take.

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.