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:

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 2

Right oh, so in the last post I shared some of the underpinning thinking behind an emerging approach to professional learning for staff. To quickly summarise, I would like professional learning to:

  1. is personalised (voice, choice, interests, passions, ownership…)
  2. incorporates ‘play’
  3. moves towards smaller self-directed groups
  4. mirrors what we want to see happening for our learners
  5. empowers teachers
  6. provides conditions for innovation and creativity
  7. aligns to our school vision.

As I started thinking about this more I started sketching out a diagram of where my thinking was headed. This is what shape it started taking.

I will attempt to explain what is going on.

  1. Central to the approach is the school vision & values. This drives everything we do.
  2. Stemming out from the vision are inquiry streams. These relate directly back to the vision and values. The streams are co-constructed by the staff and could be a new approach or idea they want to investigate further, an extension of one of our strategic goals, a passion or interest area, a hunch, known review area…
  3. Each stream has staff members who opt in to it. This group of teachers is currently referred to as a professional learning group(PLG). These are characterised by:
    • being self chosen
    • having their own budget with which they can spend as they decide (e.g. to release teachers, to engage outside expertise, going on school visits, purchasing professional texts)
    • defining their own structure/approach (e.g. the roles within the group, responsibilities, protocols and expectations, professional inquiry model, where and when they meet)
    • having a coach assigned to them to work 1-1 with each PLG member
  4. Each PLG develops a set of agreed upon expected outcomes. These clearly show how they see their inquiry impacting on the group, the members, and the learners, and will serve as a review & monitoring baseline for measuring the impact of the inquiry.
  5. It is anticipated that the members of the group will:
    • be in control
    • be active and engaged
    • highly value the professional trust placed in them
    • engage in rich professional dialogue.
  6. The coach assigned to the PLG will:
    • respond to individual and group needs
    • make links to vision and values, effective pedagogy
    • promote deeper thought and reflection
    • guide and scaffold thinking
    • not be a subject expert
    • be supported in their own development as a coach.
  7. The idea of flexible membership is explored. By this I mean the ability to be a member of more than one PLG, or the ability to drop out of one PLG and join another if you are no longer gaining anything from it.
  8. The time line for an inquiry stream is noted. At this stage this is deliberately open ended to remove any constraints of either having to start/finish within set dates. If a PLG is in the flow I want them just to keep on inquiring to when the cycle has a natural end point.

That’s it in a nutshell. I have shared this concept with my own principal PLG, the leadership team, the staff and the Board. I have drawn it on the wall in my office so I can ponder more over the structure and implications.

In doing so what has emerged are ongoing thoughts re the place of the learner agency tool (described in Part 1) as a possible tool for supporting any measure of the impact of the streams.

When sharing the concept, there are plenty of questions thrown about and interestingly no matter what the audience the questions are the same. Some of these are shown in the image on the right. These have been great and have helped clarify how the whole approach could work.

Perhaps one of the biggest ah ha moments has been the perceptions of what leadership is all about in a school. I think that there is still a string voice that outlines how school leaders are all about managing and administration. I challenge this notion and see developing people to be the most effective they can be as the core job of a leader. Question 4 below is a reflection of this.

We are revisiting the concept as a whole staff in a couple of weeks. In the interim I have asked them to reflect and have a think re the following questions:

  1. What questions do you have?
  2. What fears do you have
  3. What development streams do you think there should be for next year?
  4. How does the concept of leadership being about coaching others first, rather than the more traditional role of admin and organisation?
  5. If you could design your own professional learning pathway, what would it look like? How would you spend your money?

The general feeling though is one of excitement and support. Looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds.

#Personalisation

Working Towards Personalised PLD – Part 1

One of my goals for next year is to promote teacher agency through the implementation of a personalised approach to professional learning and development. This is an area that I have increasingly felt strongly about as I have read and reflected and had my thinking prompted by some key people.

When the goal was set we outlined the following expected outcomes.

  1. PLD is personalised & involves teacher choice and voice
  2. Teachers have more ownership over their own learning
  3. Teachers ability to coach & facilitate conversations with each other is enhanced
  4. Teacher collaboration is enhanced
  5. The opportunities for teacher creativity and innovation are increased
  6. Teachers articulate that their professionalism has been valued & that high trust exists
  7. Outcomes from inquiry contexts will inform the focus for 2019

And while these have been set relatively recently, I am already wanting to add in another to acknowledge the relationship between classroom learning and professional learning. Something like:

  • PLD mirrors our beliefs about learning and teaching in our school.

This one is perhaps more of an underpinning philosophy, where the beliefs that drive what learning looks like for our student learners should be the same beliefs that drive learning for our adult learners.

Right let’s move on… the purpose of this post is to outline all of the influences that currently guide my thinking.

  1. The school’s vision
  2. Learner agency
  3. Personalised learning
  4. Conditions for innovation & creativity
  5. Personalised pathways
  6. Whole staff → Group→ 1-1
  7. Play based

The School Vision

Our school vision is;

Empowering agency, innovation and leadership.

This is the starting point for all that we do; reviewing, decision making, strategic direction, resourcing, budgeting, appointing staff… and as such must be a driver for and be reflected in our approach to professional learning. Thus empowered teachers, the conditions for innovation and the opportunities for for staff to lead their own learning must be present in any approach to professional learning.

Learner Agency

Our school was privileged to recently lead a Teacher Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) project  which focused on developing learner agency. One of the outcomes was the development of a learner agency self-assessment tool, derived from a matrix, which outlined the skills and dispositions of agency.

As we discussed how we could use this tool to capture data about our learners  to show progress of groups or individuals, and also review how we were providing the conditions for agency to flourish; (after all, this is critical, it is one of the key strands in our vision), I kept asking myself and then later my colleagues a question. Could this tool also be used for teachers to measure their own agency? If we change the RSS Kids in the middle to RSS Learners, would the characteristics of agency be the same for both students and adult learners?

Personalised Learning

I have found Make Learning Personal: The What, Who, WOW, Where and Why a great read. Particularly useful has been the table on the inside cover that outlines the differences between Personalisation, Differentiation and Individualisation which looks a little like this:

As a principal I don’t have a class of learners but I do have a staff of learners. So rather than looking at this through a teacher’s lens, I am looking at it through the lens of a principal. That changes it up a bit and puts me in a position where I ask myself a range of reflective questions.

For example, with a desire to personalise learning for my staff, am I providing the conditions where:

  1. Teachers are driving their own learning?
  2. Teachers are connecting learning with their interests, talents, passions and aspirations?
  3. Teachers actively participate in the design of their learning? etc

Conditions for Innovation & Creativity

Another book I am constantly going back to is George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. There is a whole lot of material in here that is influencing my thinking and personal learning. Let’s take this graphic for instance that outlines the 8 things to look for in today’s classrooms.

Once again I don my principal’s hat and ask myself a similar range of questions related to what I should be looking for in our school for my teachers;

  1. Do they have voice and choice?
  2. Are there opportunities for them to be innovative?
  3. Do I give value to and provide time for reflection? etc.

Also, recently George posted about the 4 Questions for Administrators to Promote a Culture of Innovation. The first question struck me as it is almost a carbon copy of my own underpinning philosophy recorded above.

Are your professional learning opportunities mirroring what you want to see in the classroom?

Often we ask teachers to do something different in the classroom, while we continue to do the same thing in professional learning. The best way for teaching practice to change in the classroom is for professional learning to look different as well. We create what we experience. If teachers are not excited about the learning opportunities that are offered, why would we expect them to create engaging and empowering environments for students?
Model what you seek.

Personalised Pathways

A recently new discovery of mine has been the work and thinking of Katie Martin who has a wealth of work been writing about a personalised professional learning approach. There is some great stuff on her blog that I encourage you to check out such as her 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. In Part 5 she outlines where professional learning has clear goals and allows for personal pathways:

  1. Develops skills and knowledge based on the needs of the learner
  2. Builds on strengths and interests
  3. Allows for creativity and passion to drive diverse learning experiences
  4. Honours individuals and allows them to progress from where they are
  5. Models desired teaching and learning

If you have taken note of everything else above then you can see how easily the points here dovetail with the other influences on my thinking re professional learning. Additionally when you do look at the full 10 characteristics there are many other ideas that align with my thinking including; inquiry based, collaborative, personalised and purposeful. Also I am really interested in investigating further the Create Your Own Adventure approach – that appears to have great potential and value.

Whole staff → Group→ 1-1

My thinking in this area has been influenced strongly by my own involvement in smaller more intimate professional learning groups supported by 1-1 coaching. I know that this has a much greater impact on my personal development than attending a large group professional learning opportunity. Based on this premise then my belief is that staff will also greatly benefit from small group professional learning supported by 1-1 coaching.

Play Based

I have previously reflected on my thoughts in this area as it also compliments my current thinking in personalising PLD. Again, looking at the approach from a principal’s perspective as I attempt to create an environment where the professional learning is personalised for teachers.

Adapted from the thinking of https://longwortheducation.co.nz/

So what now?

OK so that is a quick overview of what is influencing my thinking. I have a plan forming in my mind about what shape it might make which I will describe soon after I have talked it through with a couple of key people.

#empowering #Personalisation #11 #play #innovation #leadership