Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Push and Pull of Leadership - George Couros

The Principal of Change

Stories of learning and leading

In the 05/27/2018 edition:

The Push and Pull of Leadership

By George on May 27, 2018 07:24 am
Ugh…I love this quote so much from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“:
Look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation. It’s not what they’re not doing or should be doing that’s the issue. The issue is your own chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing. If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem.
This reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a principal who was complaining about their teachers not coming along. As he complained, I asked, “If you are the leader and they are not moving forward, could the issue be with you and not with them?”
The comment was not to lay blame but to remind the principal that leadership was about leading.  How good of a leader can one be if no one is ready to follow?
Instead of laying blame on others on why they won’t move forward, ask questions, get to know where they are coming from, and go to them.  Leadership is both push and pull.  It is not about getting someone to jump from A to Z, but finding out where the point A is, what that looks like, and sometimes walking beside them to help them build confidence and competence along the way to get to that point B.  After that, point C doesn’t seem so bad.
Of course, this is not to say the individual doesn’t have a responsibility for their growth either.  But understand, you cannot change anyone. You can only create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.
Just remember that the next time you get frustrated with someone seemingly not moving forward, don’t try to figure out what is wrong with them or their attitude. Figure out what you can do to support them on their journey.  Complaining about what is wrong will never make it right.
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Saturday, 19 May 2018

An Integral Curriculum at Amesbury School

An Integral Curriculum at Amesbury School

Ensuring that learning is real life and takes place in an authentic learning context is one of the commonly touted characteristics of 21st century learning.  The main thinking behind this is that students will learn best when there is a real purpose for their learning. I am sure this is true. However, I am coming to understand that a much more important reason is that the complex times our children are growing into will require a much greater ability to make decisions which are very complex in nature. These decisions will require synthesis of huge amounts of wide-ranging, diverse and contradictory information and ideas, complex thought processes, strong moral/social justice awareness ( a strong vision of how the world should be) and an acute political awareness. As a staff, we have come to know this as decisional capital as per Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves (Developing Professional Capital, 2013); and, I think, the only way to gain this capacity is to engage with real life problems. Decisional capital cannot be taught as a bunch of skills in isolation, though skills are a necessary component. Decisional capital is developed as people engage with the messiness of real life situations and problems and use reflective and other practices to increase their understanding of the reality of how the world works and make decisions which display this increasing “practical wisdom.”
At Amesbury School we believe it is important that this kind of learning is not only for the adults in the school; but that students have opportunities to begin to develop decisional capital. We also do believe (as above) that students learn best when they can see a real purpose for their learning, and “real life contexts” provide this.  Hence, at Amesbury we strive to deliver an “integral” curriculum. This means that learning begins with real world experiences/interactions or problems or contexts. As we inquire into the experience/interaction, we realise that we need skills to understand the “thing” better and so we step aside from the real world experience and learn the skills that will help us with our inquiry. We then take the skills back into the inquiry and now we are better equipped to carry on our investigation into how the world works.
This is the ideal process, but the reality is that learning, particularly in the early years at school cannot always (or even often) be based on real life contexts. There is considerable skill-based learning that needs to happen so that students can begin to engage more deeply in the inquiry process. So, though it is our belief that skill-based learning such as reading, writing and maths is best when it “falls out” of an inquiry, we realise that for our junior students particularly, learning programmes need to be more skills-based until the students develop a sufficient level of skill to access learning at a deeper level within an inquiry. This changeover of emphasis happens at different ages for different children. We believe, in general, that it happens about the time a student reaches Level 20 in reading. An important aspect of the personalisation of learning at Amesbury School is recognising where students are at and ensuring that each child’s programme is appropriate to his/her developmental level in relation to this.
This “integral curriculum” approach is different from more traditional schools which tend to present decontextualised learning for much of the day and do this in very clearly defined bands of time.  At Amesbury, you are likely to see this much more in Koru Hub – although our goal is to integrate the skill-based learning of reading, writing and maths into inquiry as much as is practicable. But in Harakeke Hub, although, of course, reading, writing and maths are taught regularly; it, hopefully, will not happen in the kinds of clearly defined bands you might see in other schools. We would expect this learning, at this level, to be taught increasingly through an inquiry approach. Although, it might look a little different for individual students with differing needs.
The current inquiry called The Dragons’ Den” is a good example of this. A real-life, authentic opportunity to take part in the Churton Park Festival provided the context for the inquiry. Teachers looked at the matrices to see what achievement indicators in reading, writing and maths could/would authentically be covered during this inquiry and, in their planning, they set goals for each student. As students moved through the inquiry, the authentic activities or tasks they did for the inquiry, such as writing emails asking people for help and support or seeking information, provided evidence towards the achievement of the indicators. As required, and in a timely manner, the teachers provided skills-based workshops for each student who needed it, to assist students to gain the skills to successfully participate in the inquiry (such as giving change in maths or working out profit margins).
The teacher planning required for an integral approach to teaching and learning is complex. To begin with, we have the real life context of the inquiry which teachers need to explore and plan for.  What are the essential understandings of the world or the powerful ideas we want students to explore as part of this inquiry? Then we have the skills-based component. What reading, writing and maths skills will authentically “fall” out of the inquiry?  Teachers will have to prepare a range of skill-based workshops to cover these. However, there is a further layer – we now need to personalise this, because not all children will need the same workshops or the same level of workshop. Some students will already have the indicator highlighted on their matrix and they will need a different set of workshops or to cover a similar indicator at a higher level. Within the delivery of workshops, students will take more or less time to pick up the learning. This will need to be catered for in the planning.
Our commitment is that each child will receive the education that he/she needs, not the one that is better for another child in the group. Our commitment is also that we will not waste students’ time by having them sit through a workshop or session that is either too hard or too easy.  We want the learning of all students to be exactly as it needs to be.  Of course, this is aspirational…..we are not there yet.  However, we are getting closer to having the systems, structures and processes which will enable this aspiration to become a reality.
And then sometimes we are just not able to provide an authentic context for coverage of particular achievement indicators. Sometimes, in order to ensure coverage of the Amesbury Standards, we do just have to provide decontextualized skill-based learning. It is not how we prefer to do it, but sometimes it is the only way.
I know that as parents you want everything for your child. What makes this approach safe in terms of ensuring that the skill-based learning of reading, writing and maths is continuing appropriately within the “integral” framework, is our focus on the matrices. The matrices ensure a constant focus on where your child is at and where he/she needs to get to next.
I want to mention that an “integral” approach to learning introduces much more complexity to teachers’ work, but, we believe, it is the only way to go. The students’ engagement during The Dragons’ Den inquiry is testament to that fact. Many of you have commented to me on your child’s enjoyment. But let me be clear….it is fun, but it is not only fun. There is appropriate and personalised learning of the basics and some deeper understandings of the world all wrapped up into an engaging inquiry. As a result, our children will not only be able to do reading, writing and maths, but they will also learn to engage with the world in meaningful and complex ways.



Modern classrooms won’t fix education

Was it really the furniture that created NZ’s long tail of educational under-achievement in the first place? Dr Mohamed Alansari casts a critical eye over 'modern' classrooms 
As new waves of practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers assume command, school corridor chats often turn into betting rounds. Bets are often raised on which policy is going to be introduced next, which budget is going to get the chop next, and how teachers are going to be ‘summoned’ and ‘told’ how to teach better, where to teach, and what to teach more/less of.
Therefore, it is not surprising when new initiatives and policies are viewed as fads by those impacted directly.
One recent fad was the $517 million spent over the last five years to make classrooms ‘flexible’, ‘stylish’, ‘innovative’, and hence modern. Common definitions of such environments include:
Modern learning environment (MLE): a classroom that is different to the traditional style of rows of desks facing a teacher.
Innovative learning environment (ILE): a collaborative, flexible classroom that can evolve to meet the needs of a rapidly-changing society. It covers teaching style and technology, as well as lighting and colour.
Flexible learning environment (FLE): physical classroom design, encompassing light and colour, furniture, and how pupils and teachers are able to move between spaces.
But, teachers in a traditional classroom setting can still use collaborative and flexible processes, utilise the physical space to maximise learning time, and employ technology to enrich the learning experience of students. And, we have great case studies of schools who have always excelled irrespective of whether students were placed in small or large environments, using technology or not. So, why the need for a makeover? Was it really the furniture that created New Zealand’s long tail of educational under-achievement in the first place? Or are we just equating ‘modern’ with new and effective, and ‘traditional’ with old and ineffective, in the hope that the new will overcome the old?
Indeed, classroom makeovers seem to be undertaken with the view that IKEA-inspired spaces are likely to address (if not reverse) 30 years’ worth of current research that describes the educational inequities and challenges that continue to exist within our education system. While I do not disregard the potential benefits of enhancing learning environments, I do worry that this change is largely driven by financial constraints, and seldom accompanied by evidence-based practice.
There has been extensive media coverage of the mixed reaction to the modern classroom trend, and what is common among these articles is intriguing yet worrying. They show a lack of consensus on the pedagogical rationale, inconsistent (if not inaccurate) reporting of the effectiveness of such innovations on student learning gains, and the concerning view that some children would rather stay home than attend an overcrowded environment as judged by their parents.
Unless educational leaders recognise that significant changes in practice require time, ongoing support, and effective use of evidence and data for future improvements, modern learning environments may well be a multi-million dollar missed opportunity.
Because the research on modern versus traditional learning environments is yet to grow, I am only able to offer insights and questions for those interested in debates on learning environments for maximising student gains (note: the emphasis is on the learning environment, not its modernity):
Moving to a modern learning space does not necessarily mean students’ disciplinary or behavioural issues will vanish, nor does it mean that students’ academic achievement will peak. It also does not necessarily mean that workload is halved when two teachers are put into a larger space. So, what do modern learning environments really solve?
Teachers need to know what problems modern learning environments are going to solve, since they also know that other factors such as effective feedback, formative assessment practices, goal setting, micro teaching, enhanced classroom relationships, and high teacher expectations can explain twice as much the variance in student outcomes when compared with modernising learning environments.
I am often puzzled by authors who discuss modern learning environments and completely omit the seminal body of literature on learning environments, and instead use competing theories that support their arguments. Practitioners need to start looking for learning environments theories, and not just learning theories that help describe how learning can be facilitated in modern landscapes.
What we do know from previous research is that supportive learning environments can be characterised by strong classroom relationships, opportunities for personal growth, and classroom management practices that reduce disruptive time to increase learning time. So, as teachers transform their learning spaces, they will need to work out how to still retain the unique contribution of all these features. And the fact is, not all teachers can teach in modern learning spaces as of yet.
What is really required is evidence that modernising learning environments is the most effective solution to address the roots (not just the consequences) of existing educational problems/challenges. We need evidence that student academic gains in modern learning spaces are significantly larger than those in traditional spaces; and that these environments are beneficial to all students irrespective of their learning needs, individual differences, and demographics.
Now, by saying evidence I do not mean citing studies concluding that modern learning environments are ‘effective’ and ‘have a strong impact on student outcomes’ based on four interviews with teachers highly rated by their community. Nor do I mean a one-off survey of 100 native-speaking students who are already achieving at or above their expected levels of academic progress. A survey conducted on the other side of the world and published in a low-quality journal would not suffice either. Our students deserve better than that.
And then finally, the question must be asked about learning time for teachers to introduce, sustain, and monitor these modern learning environments. New initiatives often require strong buy-in and commitment from all those involved, including time for learning or upskilling. For some teachers, this can mean getting to work with other teachers they enjoy working with and admire; for others, in-class teacher cooperation is a new learning experience that requires trust, rigour, and capacity-building.
And so, unless educational leaders recognise that significant changes in practice require time, ongoing support, and effective use of evidence and data for future improvements, modern learning environments may well be a multi-million dollar missed opportunity.
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