Together as a whole staff we had the privilege of visiting two schools in Palmerston North today. Throughout my career I have highly valued the opportunity to visit other schools and have been lucky enough that the schools I have been involved have also valued this and have embedded it into their school culture and professional learning.
Firstly a huge thank you to the schools we visited. We were warmly welcomed and impressed by your openness to deprivatise your practice. Our focus was looking at deliberate strategies to raise achievement in literacy and we came away with lots to think about.
School A shared with a specific school wide approach to lifting achievement in literacy known as the Daily 5 supported by the Daily Cafe. What struck me about this was the cohesive and consistent approach of the Daily 5 across the whole school. There was a common language seen, heard and followed in all classrooms. Staff had clearly agreed to implement this approach across their school, deliberately setting specific expectations and explicitly teaching self-management approaches. Great stuff.
Contrastingly School B stated their belief that there wasn’t a one size fits all approach to teaching and learning. Teachers had the professional autonomy to adapt their teaching to best suit the learning needs of their students. While there are agreed upon guiedlines and expectations, teachers had the ‘freedom’ to adpot strategies, use resources and group children as appropriate.
Now both approaches are successful, both schools are well led, both have effective management teams and self-review in place. Both approaches can find a strong base in research and best practice e.g. professional autonomy is a recognised feature of the highly ranked Finnish school system. I was impressed by both schools but as I reflect on the day the contrast between the two approaches, while over simplified in this post, made me think a little deeper and out rose a number of questions…
- Do you need consistency and cohesion before you can go to a state of autonomy? i.e. Do you need to ‘enforce’ a state of consistency to embed behaviours in teaching and learning thus laying the foundation for professional autonomy? What happens then when new staff transition in to the school?
- Can the two coexist within the same school/team and they still function effectively? i.e. Do you need to be consistently consistent or consistently autonomous? Or is being flexible the name of the game because there is no one size fits all for our teachers? Or… is there a consistent way to implementing an autonomous environment?
- Is the experience of a teacher a factor that determines their ability to manage an autonomous classroom? Similar to the first question… Could a beginning teacher hit the ground running and operate autonomously?
- Is it simply a case of teachers teaching to their preferred teaching style? e.g. Not a school decision but a personal preference to operating and managing a classroom of learners. Or is professional autonomy the preferred ideal approach?
- To what extent does school leadership influence the consistency/cohesion or teacher autonomy approach? A school principal has a strong influence over the direction of a school. Is their belief structure reflected in the schools approach, their confidence in the staff, their leadership style? Is it not about that at all but the student demographic?
Too many questions. What are your thoughts?
This year Kumeroa-Hopelands School is involved in range of literacy PLD opportunities working alongside Papatawa, Makuri, Ballance and Mangatainoka schools and our facilitators from CPL.
I am leading this development within our school and as such attend all sessions and bring back to school any new learnings and lead staff through any associated inquiry into our current practice.
The first sessions focused on how well we know our learners with a particular focus for us at KHS on our underachieving writers. To help facilitate these conversations with our students we were first asked to visualise and draw what writing looked like in our class. If you were a fly on the wall, looking down on writing in your classroom…
- What would you see?
- What people interactions would there be?
- What tools would you see being used?
- Where would the data trails be leading from and to?
Taking this back to school, how would the teachers visualise their writing teaching? How would the students? Would they ‘look’ the same? Here are a couple of examples of teachers drawing their writing ‘time’.
Some common characteristics of their visualisations:
- Cyclical in nature
- Teacher modeling and sharing of examples/exemplars
- Writing is planned by students with opportunities to discuss ideas as a group, with the teacher, among students
- Feedback/feed forward from teacher and peers
- Sharing of writing (reading to class, traditional publishing, online) is part of the process
All in all these characteristics form a positive snapshot of writing processes and include some essential elements for effective teaching. Do the students agree? Are there similarities? Here are a few:
Characteristics of the student pictures:
- Conferencing an questioning with/to teacher
- Use of technology to share exemplars/examples of writing, search for information and to print/publish writing
- Using dictionaries to help edit writing
- Learning talk amongst students
So similarities between student and teacher pictures. Teachers are much more complex and students simplistic, no real surprises there. Great to seeing the interactions betwen students talking about an helping each other with their writing. What would the purest in me like to have seen more of? Self-assessing, some stronger reference to success criteria and more effective use of technology for sharing to name a few.
So where next?
- This approach to unpacking perceptions and perspectives of teaching and learning was new to me but really worthwhile. There are many other contexts you could use it in to show people, systems, interactions, relationships, tools and data. For example with teachers:
- Draw me a picture of what success for Maori looks like in your class.
- Visualise your elearning classroom.
- What would I see if you drew a picture of your community engagement?
- This process has also reinforced to me that importance of a school having an agreed upon ‘What an effective writing classroom looks like’ set of criteria that guides teachers and sets up common beliefs and practices across the school. KHS’s version of this is up for review this term. Timely.
- The most important outcome though is the value of knowing our learners and small wake up call in terms of how well we really know them. The concept is not new, it is at the heart of Ka Hikitia and integral to the deeper notions of student voice… but do we do it well enough and often enough? With teaching as inquiry kick started with the What are our learners needs? question this process actively gets teachers, through their students, to start digging deeper.