Sabbatical – Part 3

What are these things called dispositions?

Dispositions are a bit of a edubuzz word currently and one that has increasingly been cropping up in our discussions, greatly due in part to the school’s involvement in the Maths Specialist Teacher (MST) programme where a set of mathematical dispositions are integral in developing effective mathematical habits and mindsets in our learners. Our MST teachers have a very good understanding of these dispositions but the rest of the staff are catching-up. So what are dispositions and do they fit in with a learner driven approach to learning and assessment? 

But dispositions are nothing new. Reading the text Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning (Costa & Kallick, 2014), provided a wealth of information and answered many questions. It clearly outlines what dispositions are, why they are important, provides examples of different disposition sets and provides guidance for deciding on what dispositions are important for your school and learners. It also, and importantly for the context of this inquiry, devotes a chapter to Observing and Assessing Growth in Dispositional Learning which provides insights into how you might gather evidence in relation to learner progress in dispositions.

So what was learnt from this book?

  1. In essence dispositions should be thought of as thinking dispositions, “…a tendency to think in a certain way under certain circumstances” (Costa & Kallick, 2014).
  2. Literacy and numeracy (and all other traditional areas of the curriculum) continue to be important for our learners however at least equal time should be spent planning for and actively teaching dispositions.
  3. Time spent teaching dispositions (or capabilities, attitudes, tendencies, competencies… whatever you want to call them) will in turn enable learners to more effectively access the curriculum content.
  4. Prioritising dispositions within learning and curriculum design is about realigning our focus. This includes 3 reframes:
    • From knowing the right answers to knowing how to behave when answers are not readily apparent
    • From transmitting meaning to constructing meaning
    • From external evaluation to ongoing, formative self-assessment
  5. Dispositions will be different in every context and what one school may focus on will be quite different from the next and even this will change due to the changing learner profile. Just like a school vision is personal to each school, so too are dispositions. 
  6. Simply adopting an off the shelf dispositions set e.g. Habits of Mind, short cuts the process of establishing what is really important for your school’s learners. What you notice about your learners’ learning habits are a crucial to establishing what your focus is.
  7. The role of the teacher is crucial to take dispositions from words on a page to being internalised in a school’s culture, learners and learning talk. There are some key strategies that can underpin this process outlined in the book.
  8. Learner growth in dispositions cannot be assessed using traditional content based approaches. It should be continuous and ongoing, formative, rich in self-assessment. There is a great Spirals of Continuous Learning graphic that illustrates this perfectly (reminds me of my thinking back in my e-fellowship days with the ePortfolio Learning Cycle – if only I had known about this!).
Spirals of Continuous Learning, Costa & Kallick, 2004
ePortfolio Learning Cycle, Nick Rate, 2008

Finally, focused on how we might assess growth in dispositional thinking, here is a rich summary of what is required.

There are plenty of other good reads regarding dispositions including the following with an NZC or Te Whariki context:

But to be honest, I think that if you just read these or any other disposition focused text you are only getting half the picture. You need to also to read or re-read anything that outlines the essence of formative practice. Remember the good old AtoL days? Remember Shirley Clarke? Inside the Black Box? Identifying what your core set of dispositions is and embedding these in your school will fall over unless these pedagogies are deeply embedded in practice.

So beyond the list of learnings above, 2 big picture takeaways in order for us to move forward in this area…

  • Teachers need to facilitate learning rich in the underpinnings of assessment for learning where:
    • learners are involved
    • learners self-assess and receive specific descriptive feedback about learning during learning
    • learners collect, organise and communicate learning with others
    • teaching is adjusted in response to ongoing assessments
    • a safe learning environment for risk taking and focused goal setting supports learning. (Davies, 2000)

and…

  • Teachers need to provide the opportunities for learners to engage in deep thinking. They need to be sufficiently challenged to have to draw on the thinking dispositions. This may involve (Costa & Kallick, 2014);
    • making decisions
    • strategic thinking
    • long-term planning
    • creating something new
    • testing theories etc

I think I will add much more to this last list when it is compared and contrasted with a number of other texts in my reading list.

Lastly… soft skills – you have heard of that term right? People may refer to things like communication, empathy, team work etc as soft skills. Aaaaaarrrggghhh! This goes against everything I believe (and the authors of the book). Soft [dictionary definitions: easy to mould, weak and lacking courage, subtle effect…] implies that dispositions are not important where we know they are crucially important! Please join with me in banning the term sift skills!

Sabbatical – Part 2

Learning, what is important to learn and what is important to assess.

Attendance at a Modern Learners Lab What Really Matters: Reimagining Assessment for Modern Learning with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon provided an ideal forum for initiating reflections and conversations around this question, and kick-starting this inquiry. More specifically, they prompted  deep thought around the following themes:

  • What are our beliefs about how children learn most powerfully and deeply?
  • Under what conditions do people learn most productively?
  • What assessments do you currently use in your practice?
  • What might we conclude that you believe about how kids learn most powerfully and deeply based on your current assessments?
  • What are the gaps between what we believe and what we currently do?
  • Who are our kids?
  • What are some of the major changes in the world that affect the way you think about classrooms today?
  • So, given the kids you serve, and the realities of the world today, what are the most important outcomes that you want for your students on graduation day?
  • How well do the assessments you currently employ support your mission?
  • In what ways has technology changed what’s possible in terms of classroom learning and assessment?
  • Who owns the assessment?

As one can see these are a pretty powerful set of questions to work through and reflect upon and as such as part of this inquiry they have since been worked through with staff who confirmed what we all know and think about learning… (to list a few of them) powerful learning takes place when learners; are curious, ask questions, can follow their passions, face challenges, make connections, contribute. Not, as Dixon and Richardson (2018) noted, through; sitting in rows, with no real world application, teacher controlled, someone else’s questions etc. We also realised that what we assessed didn’t align with what we believed was really important for our learners.

What Really Matters: Reimagining Assessment for Modern Learning with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon

Overall the conversations resulted in some pretty clear outcomes and actions including;

  1. a desire to focus more on the ‘front end’ (competencies, vision and values) rather than the ‘back end’ (learning areas and achievement objectives) of the NZ Curriculum
  2. a reframing of our approach to assessment by removing the unnecessary and ensuring that what practices we utilise reflect our vision and beliefs for learning
  3. investigate and develop a more competency based curriculum built on ‘dispositions’ for learning.

Why do we want to do these things?

We want to align our curriculum with the needs of the students and their future lives. If we truly believe that we should place as much or more value on the teaching of dispositions as we do in the teaching of traditional areas this will require a shift in our practices. This belief/focus will enable learners to access and activate learning across the curriculum and beyond. Doing this creates a direct need to change what and how we assess.

In relation to the sabbatical inquiry, developing an innovative approach to assessment and reporting needs to move to a place that is outside of our current box. Actively recognising and centering our curriculum around a dispositional framework is clearly worth investigating further.

Sabbatical – Part 1

Introduction

Russell Street School is a decile 8 U5 urban contributing primary school in Palmerston North. Our roll is made up of approximately 15% Māori and 60% New Zealand European. As a school we celebrate te ao Māori through every classroom and especially our Māori enhanced learning space, Poutokomanawa. Our school has always embraced new ideas and modern pedagogies which enable us to realise our school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. Our learners are central to everything we do.

We also know that what we do is deemed to be effective, at least through the eyes of ERO, where we are currently on a third consecutive 4-5 year review cycle. However we are not complacent and a restructuring of our leadership team and being involved in other initiatives such as MST and TLIF has brought in new ideas and a new direction, which is well supported by an effective pedagogical foundation that the school has built up over recent years. 

One area that has not seen huge amounts of innovative practice and thinking is in the area of assessment and reporting practices. Perhaps this was due to the impact of the former National Standards assessment and reporting regime, or simply that there were more important aspects of the teaching craft that took priority when developing our strategic direction. Regardless, our current approach of predominantly teacher directed assessments and sending home written reports twice a year with learning conferences thrown in does not closely align with our vision. Yes there is still a formative approach to learning design and great examples of agentic practices in our learning spaces but I know that over time we have just lost our way a bit.

It is this disconnect, the distance between what we believe and what we do that drives our desire to improve and change our practice.

The challenge I see in classrooms and hear about in conversations with students, teachers, administrators, and families is that there is a misalignment between our aspirations – what we believe that learners needs – and what we actually do in schools.

Couros & Novak, 2019, p. XV

As such, this inquiry focuses on looking at innovative ways to assess and report on learning and achievement and how this process can embrace our school vision of Empowering Agency, Innovation and Leadership. It also stems from a desire to

  • confirm what is important to learn, and therefore what is important to assess
  • adopt an assessment approach that is genuinely driven by the learner
  • ensure what is assessed and how it is assessed reflects what we believe and know is important for effective learning
  • develop a reporting approach (for all contexts i.e. the learner, parents, Board and community) that also stays true to the essence of our vision.

In order to do this, the inquiry provides the opportunity to attend workshops where the same questions are asked, investigate what other schools may be doing, as well as extensive reading on learning approaches that are innovative and empower learners.

Empowering v Delegation #2

Following on from my previous reflections, I continue to inquire into the art of delegation.

My second stop was to read a book called Big Potential – Five Secrets of Reaching Higher by Powering Those Around You. I just stumbled across this book quite by accident and found it a good read with a few “ah ha” moments with strong links to my inquiry. I found the quote below particularly great and shared with it my Board. It provides a big hint to what you can expect to get out of the book – empowering those around you will not only lead to their potential being realised but also to your own.

This reinforces what I already know about the delegation, that empowering those around provides more opportunity for creativity and innovation.Effective delegation leads to empowerment.

“The more you expand your power to those around you, the more powerful you become.”

This book takes it further though than the previous text I read which is maybe a bit clinical. The foundation of Big Potential is well grounded in research right from events taking place in the natural world through to brain development, examples from business, and what is great to see, from education.

The author describes, and so accurately, how as a society we look at individual skills, attributes and knowledge throughout our schooling and education. We are assessed individually, reported on individually, apply for jobs individually. This is all contrary to all the research presented which shows that you will never reach your full potential by acting/learning/working individually. As we reflect on how schools operate we also embrace the individual in so many circumstances. Prizes at prizegivings, MVPs for sports teams, individual tests, head boys/girls, individual reports. We reinforce the notion of the individual and their success but the research shows you will be more successful based on how you contribute to and benefit from, the people around you.

This takes me back nicely to the whole purpose of reading this text, to Explore systems & mechanisms to support effective delegation & ‘working through others’.

This book is rich in research, advice, and practical strategies to power those around us. While the word ‘delegation’ only appears once in the whole book, all of the advice in the book supports that goal but it does it in a way that is justified by research and in a way that honours the wellbeing of others e.g. just by changing the way we praise. Even if you put everything to do with empowerment/delegation to the side this book has a whole lot of good it in to support your leadership development.

I shared some of this thinking at our school’s leadership team PLG. We were updating each other on progress towards our goals. After sharing some thoughts, the rest of the team posed some questions, mostly in regards to my slightly provocative theory statement of delegation being an old school approach deeply rooted in a hierarchal leadership framework, and empowerment being the modern day equivalent and more aligned to a leading alongside approach or a networked framework.

Their questions…

  1. How do you know you have empowered someone?
  2. How is this theory going to help you with your feelings of workload and being overwhelmed?
  3. Where are you now on the scale of: Overloaded<————————>Sweet as?
  4. What systems and attitudes might our staff need to develop?
  5. What ideal character qualities will you need to drive a networked leadership framework?
  6. I wonder how this theory is going to help you manage your workload?
  7. What might empowerment look like? How do you monitor it?

Some good meat in there for me to ponder as I continue on this personal learning stream of inquiry.

#delegation #empowering

Empowering v. Delegating

I have a developing theory about the roles that delegation and empowerment play in school and educational leadership. Actually, rather than just in the context of education in my mind it is transferable into all aspects of leadership.

In short here’s my initial thinking… delegation is an old school solution to leading that reinforced the traditional hierarchal leadership structure. On the other side of the coin, empowerment is a leadership approach that looks for and builds on strength in others, gives them the space, trust and permission to innovate, aligning itself to networked leadership structure.

Hierarchal = Delegation?
Networked = Empowered?

I need to delve a little deeper into that thinking but before I do, some background… the why. The thinking here starts back in my move from a principal at a school with a roll around 160 to my current role as principal at a school with a roll around 360. I found the workload a big set up and felt that it was impacting on life at home and the whole work/life/family balance. I don’t really know why this was though, especially with a hugely capable and already leaderful staff at my new school. Was it to do with a change from a rural school to an urban school? Was it the pace and expectations of leading a historically high performing school? Was it me not understanding how to effectively work alongside the new and extensive leadership team? I wasn’t sure but what I did know was that I was finding it a challenge.

Contributing to this was a style of leadership that I wanted to embrace and on reflection I was more than likely putting pressure on myself to make sure I started off how I meant to finish. Reading a whole lot of books continued to reinforce the leadership approach that I wanted to adopt. For example, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Empower by Spencer & Juliani, and Disobedient Teaching by Welby Ings…

None of them are specifically about leadership (except maybe the heroic v. post heroic leaders in Disobedient Teaching) but all of them describe approaches that can easily be embraced as a philosophy to drive a leadership style. More often, just changing the context (wording) e.g. from Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning to Empower: What Happens When Teachers Own Their Learning makes one think differently and put the thinking within your own context of leading a school.

So I have this issue of an increased workload after a move to a new school, the added desire of wanting to be a transformative leader, but with a sense of ensuring a need to manage my own well being.

This led to a conversation with my appraiser as we pulled together my annual appraisal plan. End result, a development goal providing the context for my professional inquiry: Explore systems & mechanisms to support effective delegation & ‘working through others’. I recall my appraiser, who I have immense respect for, indicated that there were already a number of documented approaches to delegation which outlined a very structured sequential process that one could use. That’s just the ticket I thought, and launched my inquiry.

My first stop was to read and what better than a text entitled Delegating Effectively – A Leader’s Guide to Getting Things Done. There is plenty of good stuff in this short 30 page ‘ideas into action guidebook’. For example;

  • delegation is essentially the ability to relate to people in productive ways
  • its starts with creating an environment of trust
  • it is not simply assigning tasks – it is giving someone the authority to do something
  • it contributes to teamwork, trust, shared authority, and group participation
  • and for the individual – enhanced value, confidence and self-image, & opportunities to use their initiative and problem solve.

In turn this allows the leader more time for;

  • creativity and innovation
  • working on more complex issues
  • developing more leaderful staff
  • creating an autonomous environment for staff
  • increasing innovation, communication and creativity.

So there is some really positive messages in this publication, and some that align themselves directly with what I want to be as a leader and to our school vision. It also shows that my thinking re delegation/hierarchal leadership v. empowerment/networked leadership does not really have a lot of substance behind it!

From this source anyway it is clear that when a leader has a desire or vision to empower staff, and they have established effective trusting relationships, then delegation (as described above) is empowerment.

More inquiring/scanning to do to gain a different perspective and broaden my thinking. Final words for now though from the book Delegating Effectively:

Progress re ‘Pick Your Own’ Appraisals

Our pick your own pathway approach to staff appraisals is all up and running now after having the complete process put under the ERO review microscope last term. The outcome is an approach that embraces our school vision and additionally ticks off the compliance aspects of teacher appraisal.

For me the first outcome was the most important, that our appraisal reinforces our school vision empowering agency, innovation and leadership. The second of being compliant i.e. a vehicle for teachers to renew and/or become a fully certified teacher, is actually pretty important for the teachers too! However, I am conscious of any compliance conflicting with opportunities for empowerment and I often want to go for the pureness of empowerment without compromise! Check the graphic below or this great clip for more in this strand of thinking. Maybe a hint of disobedience here too.

Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by John Spencer & A.J. Juliani

So what are the additional processes that took place before the system went live? Beyond those outlined in the last post, here are the highlights:

First was the underpinning/official Teacher Appraisal Procedure. The purpose of this document is to clearly outline the beliefs that drive the approach and the full process. This provides all stakeholders and interested parties i.e. appraisee, appraiser, BOT, ERO, with a robust transparent framework where they can be assured that their co-constructed views have been incorporated, as well as the compliance aspects.

This procedure is unique to our schools as as far as I know, we are alone in using an approach like this, and also because the beliefs that guided it and are incorporated throughout were co-constructed with staff. Here is an example of how we went about clarifying our drivers and other elements of the process – two simple questions which were then prioritised = ownership, buy in, voice, valued…

Secondly, reference in the appraisal procedure is made to an Appraisal Plan and Summary template. This document combines both of these steps. Initially it is to be completed by the appraisee and a member of the leadership team to set the appraisal up, and then by the appraisee and appraiser to guide how the personalised process rolls out over the year, and to provide a summary report at the end of the year, the later an important compliance step.

Update number three relates to the starting point for the appraisal, the pick your own pathway doc. This has gone to version #3 now and has incorporated teacher inquiry (don’t know why that was ever left off my previous versions especially considering my older posts like this one…) into the process as well as a reshuffle of the order to prioritise our school’s vision and values over the standards for the teaching profession. Maybe TAI and the standards may do a swap in future versions.

Staff were asked to make a copy of the doc and complete it by ticking on those areas that they would like to be included in your appraisal, or at least part of the set-up discussion. These would normally be areas that they need to work on, or have a particular professional interest in. They had to tick at least one in each column but could tick more than one in any column as required. Staff were also encouraged to also add in any aspect that is not already there.

Finally, rather than having a meeting to outline and discuss the appraisal  ‘system’, the leadership team suggested a video/screencast of the process was the way to go. This attempt was well received – I am not going to be a YouTube sensation but it did allow staff to understanding the approach and do so in their own time and follow up face to face with any questions.

Learnings to date? Several…

  1. Staff were released to complete the set-up and appraisal plan. Very appreciated and worthwhile – gives it the value it requires. If it’s important – fund it!
  2. When discussing the pick-your-own pathway, don’t discuss and confirm the last three columns (who, how, when) until you have confirmed the goals. The goals will often direct these aspects, especially the who (thanks for this great tip Nic).
  3. Video/screencast approach is a winner and we will look to grow this semi flipped  approach more especially in light of being a no staff meeting school.
  4. Need to reinforce more the working smart approach. Teachers are busy people and as such learning that they are already doing (i.e. ongoing TAIs in the classroom, professional learning) should be the basis of the appraisal goals. The goals shouldn’t be anything extra and should enhance these areas of growth. This is not inherently clear in the pick-a-path process, yet.
  5. Future thinking re the pick-your-own pathway is somehow linking/initiating it through a probing reflective questionnaire (based on the column headings & content) that then magically spits out the priority areas/work ons, kind of like an e-asTTle dashboard i.e. an interactive online smart tool that helps you to pick-your-own pathway, or an app for your device.

#empowering #voice #pathway #choice #appraisal

Pick your own Appraisal Pathway

We are going through a bit of a review and revisioning of our appraisal system. One of the big drivers for me was to ensure that our appraisal approach was deeply rooted in our school’s vision:

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

Our vision is not just for our students learners, it is central to how we operate and learn as a community of learners and includes the board, staff and of course our students.

The seeds for change have been germinating for a while. If you have read any of my previous posts and reflections they are all about clarifying and acting on my commitment to a more personalised approach for professional learning that is rich in teacher voice and choice. That initiative is underway and parallel to the thinking behind that has been the thoughts of what if we took that philosophy and applied it to our appraisal process? What would it look like when we personalised this for staff and incorporated choice?

Let’s wind back the clock for a second… our appraisal system is not currently broken, it serves it’s purpose in supporting staff to grow in their capability and effectiveness, provides evidence to supports the renewal of their practicing certificate, has teacher inquiry as its foundation and includes a 1-1 coaching element. It ticks off the ‘requirements’ from the Ministry for Performance Management in Schools and the Education Council’s Requirements for the Appraisal of Teachers.

However, when one listens to the voices of the staff one hears murmurings that improvements can be made, especially after the leadership team had completed the ‘mid-year’ appraisals in 2017. As such the leadership team sat down and reviewed the process and the drivers for doing what we do. Some of the main learnings from the process were that there was no opportunity to staff be truely agentic, for the process to be personalised and there was not choice – it was very much a top down approach – and thus the seeds were sown…

It was around this time that I discovered the thinking of Katie Martin and in particular her thoughts on personalised professional learning. Her post Create Your Own Adventure (Professional Learning That Shifts Practice Part 5) really got me thinking and has also influenced my thinking around our PLD approach. The create your own adventure approach, or as I refer to it, a pick-a-path approach – just great! So, how could this planning be applied to appraisal?

So from here the planning began and initially I was thinking all circles rather than the table a like Katie’s. If you could imagine the first ring was the why, the second ring was the how etc. and they were moveable so you rotated each ring until your pathway was in a straight line. But time got the best of me and a table it was.

Below is version 2 (link to Google Doc). Probably a good time to reinforce that the approach is first and foremost about supporting teacher growth. Accountability is important but not a key driver. The headings explained:

  1. Career Pathway: Long/short term goal for staff to consider, and may indicate potential goal around leadership or curriculum area etc to build in to appraisal.
  2. Vision: Which element of our school vision do you perhaps need to strengthen in your own practice?
  3. Values: Which one of our school values do you know you need to deepen your understanding of?
  4. Standard: The compliance aspect. Either which one do you need to get better at, or, which one/ones relate to my emerging appraisal goals?
  5. Who: Who would you like to appraise you?
  6. How: What approach or approaches would you like to be incorporated into your appraisal?
  7. When: How often, how responsive?

I presented this to staff at our retreat. The reaction was favourable and certainly initiated some great dialogue. When we explored the pathway, I asked them to choose just one from each column but that is not at all how I would envisage it rolling out.

After our initial discussion staff then planned it out and what it could look like over the year – a timeline of what appraisal looks like when it is personalised and embraces a personalised pathway. More to come on that.

I think this is pretty exciting stuff and really look forward to what the system will look like after I have collated the planning from teachers and we mould it into a workable system that:

  1. helps teachers grow
  2. meets all requirements/expectations for appraisal.

Final thoughts… if you drew a picture of your appraisal approach would it be hierarchal or networked? Which one allows for personalisation and agency?

Hierarchal
Networked

#appraisal #choice #pathway #voice