Professional learning goals for 2015

Hello everybody and salutations to you as we come to the end of yet another festive season. If you’re anything like me you are lamenting the shrinking number of notches remaining on your belt as the ever-expanding girth of your Christmas puku loses the fight against the vast amounts of yuletide muck you have (and continue to) thrust down your neck.

Those of you who read my post for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog during CENZ14 back in October will realise that first half of 2014 culminated in a very low point in my teaching career.

The negative beginning to 2014 was replaced with a stellar end after my engagement with many, many like-minded geniuses at the #EdChatNZ conference in August followed with many other connections and conversations over the interweb in the subsequent months. This was a most positive development.

The other thing that changed in 2014 was my reading. That is, I started to read. I started to read books. Not just John Grisham or Stephen King. I started to read Edu-books. So far I have read two and a half books. They have all been awesome.

Key Competencies for the Future: featuring talk of wicked problems, modern learners and current pedagogies. A fantastic book for thinkers and teachers, or thinking teachers, if you will.

After that I read The Elephant in the Classroom by Jo Boaler which dealt with the how narrow our school mathematics teaching has become so that many students are marginalised and become turned off because it is so far removed from any real-world context as to become pointless (imagine coming to the conclusion early on in your schooling that you had no idea what was going on in maths and then having to participate in another decade of maths teaching. How would that impact on your entire schooling experience?).

Currently I’m reading EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education by Grant Litchman. What astounds me about this book is the sheer volume of stories from schools across the United States – a book lovingly crafted following months of driving, interviewing, visiting, and reflecting. It is a comprehensive exposition of how schools in the United States are successful through their use of, for want of a better term, the modern learning pedagogy.

The portion that has resounded with me the most I read only the other night – how teachers at a school called Sabot at Stony Point in Virginia prepare their lessons. They don’t plan ahead in detail. Instead, they go into a term with a general idea about where they are going to go and then adjust the plan on a daily or weekly basis depending on their observations of students and where they are. It resounded with me because, as it happened, this was exactly how Term 4 ended up for me. I had a rough plan at the start of the term but ended up putting out a detailed daily plan based on what learning had taken place the day before.

When I read that it was another, Look! Somebody’s doing it like me!!! moment (these are incredibly important if you have nobody close who does think like you).

The other think I am loving about this book is when I find a bit I like I tweet about it and then get a reply from the author. That’s pretty cool (if only I had that during my days of reading The Shining during those Sydney thunderstorms of 1990. I may not have been so incredibly frightened. Mr King may have been able to soothe my nerves with words of comfort in 140 characters or less).

I suppose my main point is before the #edchatnz conference I hadn’t read much educational stuff. Now I have one book on the go at a time. This is all the brain seems to be able to manage with a four and a half year old (night-time reading tends to be in a constant battle with extreme exhaustion. They are not close). All this reading has shown me the way I think is pretty on to it in terms of modern, forward-thinking pedagogy. As a teacher it is quite rewarding to find this out!

So my first goal for 2015 is to keep up to date with my readings. Best practice only comes from research and study into those who are doing it.

My other goal is a personal research goal. As we follow the Teaching as Inquiry model at our school, we have the opportunity to engage in a short study each year. Last year I looked into modern learning in general. On Thursday my research question came to me:

How can I improve outcomes for learners with particular needs (ESOL, cognitive, emotional) in a flexible learning environment?

I was inspired to write this question after I read this post from the wonderful Danielle Myburgh who regularly inspires me with her words of wisdom.

If you’ve read my earlier post on this subject you will know this is a question I was wrestling with over much of 2014. If I have been wrestling with it, then why not make it my professional learning goal for 2015.

Done.

The final goal I’ve set for myself is to become a member of Miss D’s #edchatNZ nest (see her above post). She has many questions about the setting up of her nest:

How do we build a team that is spread across a country and might never actually all meet in person? How do we structure or organise this team so that we set no limits about what we can achieve? How do we empower these volunteers to take on challenges that matter to them and will contribute to the overall vision of #edchatNZ?

I don’t think it will be a difficult process for Miss D. She is a force majeure. 

So there you go. Some professional goals for 2015. I’m already underway with at least two of them.

I’ll let you know how they go.

Mike

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Reports and Reporting

Last Thursday I was most interested in the #EdChatNZ discussion on reporting to parents. Unable to attend in real-time due to another engagement, I dutifully rattled off my answers in quick time upon my return home at 10pm.

There were some salient points raised during the debate. Most importantly it left me wondering this: how is the traditional written report relevant in this modern age of smart gadgets, 24 hour news cycles, constant Facebook cat updates and 21st century learners?

Once again, Miss D got cracking. We were only on question three and she was already asking us to put in the hard yards and create some solutions!

Reporting has long been the bane of many a teacher’s weekend time mid-way through and at the end of the year. How helpful is telling a parent little Billy can add two 3-digit numbers using part-whole strategies? Particularly when Billy questions the logic of learning these tasks when, “I can just use a calculator,” and my spluttering attempts at explaining we need to know these things because the calculator might not be working is countered with, “but it’s solar-powered.”

I’ve been grappling with the question of reporting long before I lost several weekends part-way through the year. Mainly due to how incredibly filled with teacher jargon reports tended to be. Does decoding unknown words using his knowledge of phonemes actually mean anything to parents? Or more importantly, are parents ending up having to decode unknown report comments using their knowledge of teacher jargon?

My eyes were opened and my wonderings increased even earlier this year more following my son’s shift from the local pre-school to the local kindergarten. They use a reporting system called Educa to record my son’s learning using pictures or video. Along with the media files there is usually a brief, or occasionally quite comprehensive, learning story telling me (the parent!) what learning has take place while at the bottom of the posts are links the post has to the early childhood curriculum Te Whariki. Admittedly this last bit could be construed as “jargonny” – see previous paragraph – but being a teacher I quite like that aspect, and I’m sure the Education Review Office will as well.

When there is a new post I get an email. I can click on the email and get taken to the website or I can open the app on my phone. If I wish I can add a comment, something I always do. It’s so damn simple I am much jealous. On a couple of occasions I have sat down with my to write a learning story of our own with pictures taken on holiday or the time I went to kindy with him.

I want this for my school.

I could record learning using video or pictures, write a brief description and then hit the upload button and viola! Parents are instantly reported to instantly. I used the word twice because this would be the exact opposite of the current system most schools use where parents are reported to twice in any given year.

I imagine there will be a few out there asking the obvious question: I don’t have time to faff about all day with an iPad taking pictures of my students and then writing an explanation of what’s happening. If you’ve got time to tweet or like a Facebook cat, then you’d totally have time in the day to send out a couple of learning stories. I maybe get one a week, possibly one every two weeks. Either way that’s between twenty and thirty learning reports in the forty week year – quite a lot more than I would be getting under the old system.

This is where I believe reporting to parents should head. Real time reporting on learning that’s taking place now, not 16 weeks ago. It needs to be as easy as sending a tweet. Take a few photos or a bit of video, write a brief comment then hit send.

Click, click, send.

How much time and effort would be saved if we just did our reporting in little bits like this rather than trying to do a whole class of students over the course of a couple of weeks? How many teachers would get their term 2 and term 4 weekends back? How many principals would be so very thankful they wouldn’t have the thankless task of checking the correct personal pronoun was used because every teacher in the school uses cut & paste to save their precious time?

Reporting needs to be revolutionised. Let us lone nuts be the ones to do it.

Mr B.

We are beings of connection

The social nature of humanity has been the reason for our success as a species for millennia. We realised early on in our existence that living and working together helped us both thrive and survive and move from caves into huts. Then we began grouping those huts together into small villages and started to specialise our skills to benefit not just our immediate family units, but the wider village as a whole.

Our need for connectedness is innate. We humans know instinctively that our very survival depends on our ability to connect with those around us. The Internet now allows us to create connections with people we’ve never even met. The tendrils of our electronic connectedness reach further than our physical beings could ever hope to.

I live in a small town and teach in a small, rural school. As idyllic as this sounds, it can, unfortunately, lead to a disconnect. There are fewer like-minded teachers to bounce ideas off. In a larger school in a larger town you may have two or three people at work you can hook into for ideas; you’ll also have a wider local network of mates and colleagues you can call on. This may not be the case when there are only a few of you working together. This is not to say I don’t gel with the guys at my school – far from it. We are a tightly oiled machine dishing out educational genius all over the shop. My point is, we are all very different teachers with very different ways of doing things.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I found the process of returning to full-time teaching after a few years relieving and Hiluxing to be quite difficult. You really do forget just how all-encompassing the job is when you aren’t embedded within it.

The good kind of funk: George and Bootsy

This, along with a couple of other factors, meant I headed to the inaugural #EdChatNZ conference back in August in what can only be described as a funk. Not a good funk either. No George Clinton; no Bootsy Collins. It was the funk of self-doubt. The funk of self-doubt is a dangerous place to be as a teacher. As this funk envelopes you (which it can from time to time), all other things go out the window. It doesn’t matter how supportive the people around you are, the funk of self-doubt drowns out any positive vibrations that may be sliding your way from colleagues, parents or life partners. It’s not because we teachers are a negative bunch, it’s just because we care so much about the young people in our charge that any misstep we make fills us with guilt – the guilt of having failed our learners.

Having painted the picture of where I was professionally, I headed off on the long journey from Geraldine to Auckland for the #EdChatNZ conference. As I walked in the door of Hobsonville Point Secondary School I saw how vastly different their learning spaces were and started thinking that this weekend might be a little different. Sitting alone in the auditorium awaiting the opening I was quietly looking around for people I thought I might know from Twitter. Then it all kicked off with Danielle (@MissDtheTeacher) played the Lone Nut video and it was then I knew then and there the #EdChatNZ conference was going to be like no other.

As an aside, it’s worth revisiting that very video to remind ourselves…

After two days of making real-life connections with me Twitteratti, taking hundreds of selfies, and many discussions of a pedagogical nature I returned to my South Canterbury hamlet revitalised. The funk of self-doubt had been expunged. I now knew the way I had been thinking, the direction I had been travelling was correct. I had just spent the weekend with a few hundred ‘me’s – a few hundred people heading on the same journey as I had been.

The validation I received from this weekend has been the single most important thing to happen in my teaching career. Aloneness is terrible. Being stuck inside your own head is no fun. Being stuck inside everyone else’s heads – that is absolutely the funnest time you can have.

My Twitter connections are the people I turn to when I need support before heading out of my cave into the wilderness (The last thing I need at this point in my career is to be eaten by a hungry sabre-tooth). It is they who understand precisely what is going on in my brain and how the learners in my class learn. It is they whose ideas I steal vision I use to motivate me in my planning.

As I said at the commencement of this post, we are beings of connection. We crave the company of others. We actively seek out those who are like-minded and those who will compliment us in our activities. If we don’t seek these positive connections we run the risk of falling into a funk of disconnected self-doubt.

The modern world with its interweb, Twitterings and Googletastic linkage allows we teachers to make thousands of connections we would never have made in the past. We are able to validate what we do and how we think in a way that includes teachers and educators from everywhere in the world. It’s, to borrow a phrase from Anne Kenneally (@annekenn), MAGIC!!

Modern teaching, as with modern learning, is about connection and collaboration. Connect and collaborate or you may, as I did, descend into the funkadelic depths of self-doubt.

To conclude, feast your eyes on the mothership for some extremely positive funk:

Contextualised learning

Have you missed me?

It’s not that I’ve stopped teaching or reflecting, it’s just that my wife and son have returned home from Scotland so I’m not as available as I’d like to be. After a day teaching, night-time reflection tend to flow from my brain like bricks through a… funnel… small funnel. See? Rubbish. I can’t even muster a simile at this late hour.

As the term has progressed several things have organically metamorphosed and we are now in the process of setting up a class business and redesigning our learning space. Both of these events are at the very early stages, however they are shaping up to be the two most interesting learning sequences I’ve been part of.

As I said, these have both happened organically. Neither was part of my long-term plan for this term, or even remotely close to the front of my brain. I have had ideas along these lines in years gone by but have not had the nous or confidence to undertake them.

Since the glory of the #EdChatNZ Conference, I am pedagogically confident enough to run with things as the crop up mentally rearranging my thoughts quickly before jotting down a few things as the idea unfolds.

Here’s how it has worked…

Learning Space Redesign

This was fairly simple to get off the ground. I suppose the germ of it came on my visit to Hobsonville Point Primary during the #EdChatNZ weekend. Open spaces, breakout zones, self-directed learning and much, much more. It was all there just waiting to be transposed to South Canterbury by a willing lone-nut.

I thought a good place to start was showing the students some new schools to give them ideas and have a discussion with them about what sort of things they wanted in their learning space.

Our various discussions have now led us to the point where we are about to compose a letter to the principal to ask whether there is room in the budget for new things. Tomorrow we will compose this letter and arrange what I’ve called a face-to-face.

This all sounds very formal but the point is contextualised learning, active learning and metalearning (thinking and talking about learning). If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year is that kids are far more engaged and enthused when they understand why they are doing what they do. I can see these guys get excited about this process.

The Class Business

Like the new classroom project our class business idea has morphed out of my brain and into our learning vernacular is our class business. Every year we need to raise and care for a garden. After returning from my conference epiphany I started to ask “why” about everything and the garden was no exception. I posed the question to the class:

How can we turn the garden project into something more interesting?

Our discussions ended with the class deciding to create a herb growing business.

The homework this week: the kids have to write their CVs so they can outline the skills and talents they can bring to the various positions we’ve decided we need to run our business. Those positions are gardener, marketing, financial officers, sales and product design.

It has been really interesting to see the excitement brewing about this project. Living in a rural area most of their parents own their own farms or are self-employed in some way so they are totally aware of the context of their learning. They’re also absorbing the financial literacy learning like sponges because they know exactly when and where they are going to use it.

This is going to be a pretty awesome journey. More updates as they come to hand.

Where I is at #edchatnz

I have planned for myself a busy weekend of jobs. Mrs Boon and son are currently away in Scotland visiting her side of the family. They are due back in a week and a half and following the life-changing events of the #EdChatNZ conference, I wanted to update you all quickly on where I currently lie in the transformation process before I begin on the list of things I have to complete ahead of their return.

As I have mentioned previously, it’s very easy to go away to a conference and have an amazing couple of days meeting new people and sharing your ideas. The difficulty comes when you return to the normalcy of your usual work day with all the pressures that pull you this way and that.

How are we able to implement change if we don’t have time?

Well, I’ve made time.

I read or heard somewhere once if you don’t make change within two weeks of some professional learning you will never make any change (I have in my head that Tony Ryan may have told me this, but I could be mis-remembering Ulearn 2009). With that ringing in my generously side-burned ears and the fact that #EdChatNZ is the single most ground-breaking PD I have ever been involved with, I was determined not to let the lessons I had learnt fall by the wayside.

Here’s what has happened:

  1. I am changing the way I plan: too often I write my plans in the two-week break we get every ten weeks or so. By the time week 3 comes around so much information has entered my head that all of the holiday stuff has fallen out. I get a bit lost occasionally, therefore my learners get a bit lost. I am committed to sitting down with my brain more regularly and getting the ideas and directions I have for my learners down in some more official capacity than just daily notes in my planning book. I’m also trying to give students a bit more of a say in what they learn, although I am finding this a bit tricky due to the nature
  2. Student agency: I have made this more explicit to the learners. “It’s much easier,” I’ve told them, “to motivate you all to achieve if you have first chosen what you are going to achieve.” I’m probably paraphrasing myself there in a way that makes me sound a bit more Dead Poet’s Society than I actually am, but the sentiment remains. This is something I have been doing well this year already so I just need to maintain this.
  3. SOLO Taxonomy: I’ve already blogged on this. It was one of the first things I did upon my return to school.
  4. Connected education: as a class we have made contact with Hobsonville Point Primary. I am in email contact with a school in California who are to become pen-friends – old-skool pen-friends as well; pens, papers and envelopes. This term I have used a parent expert to deliver some art lessons. I have also maintained my twitterati connections through the various edchats that are now underway (there are mutterings of more, so more columns will be open on my tweetdeck!). There will be more to come in this section so watch this space.
  5. Teaching as Inquiry: this is our current professional development programme. Apart from #EdChatNZ, it is the single-most important professional learning I have undertaken. Twice a term a facilitator visits and as a staff we reflect on our successes or any issues we may have. This is making me a better teacher. It is giving me skills I can apply to all areas of my teaching, not just numeracy or writing or science or whatever.
  6. #EdChatNZ Conference 2015: Three weeks ago while resting between breakouts with my new homies (@AnnaGerrit, @mrs_hyde, @carobush, @digitallearnin@annekenn etc.), I flippantly said I would be presenting at the next #EdChatNZ conference. Last night I tweeted, reiterating my commitment. So now I have to do it.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. When you make a list like that it seems to be huge, but it hasn’t been a great deal of extra work – just smarter work. Or something.

Right, back to my other to-do list.

Mike

 

Some thoughts on special needs – suggestions welcomed

Following the first online discussion since the conference that changed me two weeks ago, I’ve been having a few thoughts about the students I have in my charge with needs that don’t fit within the current narrow definition of achievement – well below to above – that we work within.

During our #edchatnz discussion last evening, Danielle posed this question:

My answer was swift because it has been something I’ve been grappling with as my teaching philosophy has rapidly developed since my return to the full-time teaching fold a year and a half back:

To expand the question somewhat: How do I provide relevant content to the year 5 & 6 students I have who are achieving at Level 1 of the NZ Curriculum? 

I worry that these students are getting lost within the melee of the unstructured structure I have constructed for my learners this year. 

I truly believe this is my greatest challenge as a teacher. Giving these learners the education they deserve while still delivering challenging learning for those gifted students who are knocking on the door of secondary school achievement levels. 

My question to the PLN I have constructed for myself over the last fortnight is this: What do I do? What do you do? I have a couple of hours of teacher aide time per week. I want to be as inclusive as I possibly can – why should they miss out on the learning of the rest of the class just because of their abilities? I have some ideas but I would love to hear some of the solutions that already exist out there.

I owe it to my L1 students to do the best I can for them. 

Mike

Transparent Teaching

One of the sessions that helped blow my mind at the #EdChatNZ conference was Alyx Gillett’s session on teaching transparently. Her idea is…

…that teaching and learning should be as open and collaborative as possible. Students, teachers, parents, faculty, colleagues and peers should be able to see and articulate not only what but how and why we are learning.

This struck a chord with me.

Last year I returned to full-time teaching after three years out of the classroom. Returning was a true baptism of fire. In the three years away I had totally dispensed with any memories of precisely how insane the workload was. I fully admit the first six months of 2013 was a real struggle trying to insert myself back into the teaching groove.

During this struggle things lapsed – particularly my planning. Pressures of time led to much ad-libbing of learning. Literacy and maths I planned well for, but other things not so well. As the year continued things did get better and I now feel I am on top of things.

These are all excuses for not doing giving my learners the opportunities they deserve, but they do provide some context as to why Alyx’s presentation had such an impact on me and my decision to change the course of what and how I am doing what I am doing.

As reflective practitioners, teachers owe it to their learners to be the best they can be. We must reflect on what we are doing and question ourselves and our practice. Is what we are doing the best for our learners? Can we do things better? If we need to reform, how do we reform?

In essence I have spent much of the last year asking the hard questions of myself through our Teaching as Inquiry professional development. Having given myself a swift boot in the pedagogy, I am determined to continue filling the gaps as I move forward.

So as part of my quest to utterly reform my teaching practice I have written a comprehensive plan for what will be coming up in the class. I’ve listed the what and the how but I’ve also asked why we will be studying what we are. Today I messaged all my students giving them access to the planning for our upcoming unit on pioneer New Zealanders. You might also want a look at it. In this new era of collaboration please do feel free to offer suggestions. Twitter has already been a great help during this planning mission. I am feeling most positive about it.

Opening yourself up in this way can be harrowing, but also cathartic. I am finding the latter to be more relevant at the present.

Enjoy your week!

Mike

Update on my to-do list

During the final stages of the #EdchatNZ conference I facetiously blogged this one line to-do list. At the time it was thinking, ‘this would be a hilarious joke – hopefully I’ll get heaps of retweets.’

Quite successful on the sharing stakes but on reflection, although the tweet was born from japery, there is more than just an ounce of truth in it.

How often do we return from a conference with the best of intentions only to get sucked back into the bubble of our classrooms as we become re-swamped with mountains of work, national standards targets and skiing trips to Tekapo (sorry – I had to add that last one in)

It would be so easy for me to let it slide.

They say if you don’t do anything in the first couple of weeks following a conference or some professional development you will never do it. I know that has happened to me following previous uLearn efforts.

My two days in Hobsonville Point have been so utterly mind-blowing I am determined not to let this happen.

This week I have begun the process of change.

So far: I have replaced my one of my display walls. My literacy zone has been replaced with a wall displaying some hand-drawn SOLO taxonomy symbols (I’m replacing my silos with SOLO???).

Bu0lOcYCEAAxNqY

Silo

Bu0lfZeCMAAUKQj

SOLO

I am now using the language of SOLO in during maths and literacy and within three days the students are able to use the terminologies, co-constructing a rubric for our writing task and have become quite adept of both in placing themselves on a rubric.

In my efforts to have the kids redesign their room into a learning area which is more conducive to the way that they learn. The first part of this mission was to get in touch with Amy McCauley at Hobsonville Point Primary to have our students ask questions of the students there about their learning.

The fact that we spent 40 minutes trying to, unsuccessfully, to speak via a Google hangout does not matter. There were many moments of hilarity in those 40 minutes. We may have got one question answered. In the end I suggested a collaborative Google doc where the Carew kids could pose some questions and the Hobsonville Point kids could answer.

Those are two actions I have taken since the weekend that changed my life. More will follow.

What’s on your to-do list?

Mike

Connections

The last week has been a revelation.

This could be considered an overstatement, but it is not. This time last week I was struggling to marry the place where my pedagogy was and the environment the rest of me was in.

It can be an incredibly tough road being a teacher. You (can – I do) have complete control over the learning that occurs in your classroom. If anything goes wrong, it’s all on you. You are your own worst critic. Any mistake or trouble inside or outside your classroom can send you in to that zone of reflective negativity. Regular visits to this place can end up being severely damaging to the psyche.

Having been out of teaching for three years prior to starting my job at the beginning of 2013, I found it incredibly hard getting back into the groove. Planning, meetings, responsibilities. Three months into the job I started wondering. Then the questioning began. Does he know what he’s doing? What’s happening in that classroom? Who does he think he is? This has continued in the background for the better part of the year. You can imagine how that weighs on the soul.

That’s the place I was in heading up to Auckland to attend the inaugural #edchatnz conference. I somehow knew a good conference would sought me out.

It opened. Then it happened. This video happened. As soon as the words “lone nut” had been uttered by Derek Sivers I knew something was about to happen.

And so commenced two of the most mind-blowing days I’ve had in my teaching career. I am still utterly gob-smacked at just how wonderful this conference was. I’ve returned to South Canterbury and tried to explain to the people around me just how much this has changed my life. They are supportive and excited for me but because they weren’t there they just have no idea.

No longer am I the lone nut. Yes I exist in my own little bubble in my small rural school guiding my kids through year 5 and 6, but I am no longer alone. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of other educators around the country (world?) who share my philosophy. They believe what I believe.

They understand.

I’ve been inspired to begin a blog. This blog is dedicated to the teaching journey I am undertaking. My connections have been made. My support network exists. Twitter is my new staffroom.

I am no longer the lone nut.

More soon.

Mike