Some flames scar and others allow me to bask in their warmth.

Lana often reminds us that “from fire comes light” and I find this reassuring when voicing an opinion that is different to some of the dominant voices. Knowing it’s okay to question and disagree is like having a fire extinguisher on hand when the flames get too fierce. But sometimes I feel burned by that fire and this makes me question my role and my ideas in both positive and negative ways. Sometimes the burn is a first degree and I recover quickly. But some burns are third degree which leave lifelong scars. Some scars have changed me for the better. Some scars have made me feel unsafe around fire.

Some fires are so fast moving they leave little time to prepare and respond, consuming everything in it’s path, from which some never fully recover.
Other fires are slow burning and productive, clearing out the undergrowth, making space for regeneration.

My wonderings this week are:
How do I respond to the flames that give 3rd degree burns?
How do I respond to the toxic smoke that I feel is choking me at times?
Do I distance myself from the fire completely?
How do I develop fire resistant skin?
Am I too sensitive? Should I care less?
What’s my role when the fires are burning?

Some fire-starters think I’m trying to put the fire out. That’s not my intention at all. My instinct is to assess the ferocity of the flames and prevent third degree burns for myself and others. I know sometimes I do bring too big an extinguisher and then I realise the fire is being contained in other ways and put it away.

Some flames scar and others allow me to bask in their warmth.

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Managing the tipping point (part 2) without losing sight of what’s important…

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It gives me great pleasure to support our curriculum leaders and teachers to achieve our goal of “Using data to inform teaching and enhance learning”. Our latest PD looked at ways to gather data using the “now literacies” of twitter, back channeling and blogs, to name a few. Our curriculum leaders are big ideas people and know other big ideas people so our PD was of exceptional quality. Thanks, @whatedsaid and @langwitches. Each teacher will have got something out of the sessions- depending on their entry point. And based on their responses over the week, I feel they will be able to take the next steps through the sharing and collaboration process that has started to happen from this PD. But more so if leaders in our school manage the tipping point by looking out for and recognising the signs. Even better would be to avoid going over the tipping point altogether by giving the time needed.

I feel that teachers now need time to process and practice what they have learned in this recent PD where for some a big shift in their thinking has started. In our various leadership roles we now need to give teachers the time, space and support to do so without tipping the scales to the point where they feel overwhelmed and stressed and stretched too thin. Sam Sherrat (and others) have stressed the practise of giving time to the things we value. We have got much better at this at our school, but sometimes we can get so enthusiastically caught up in what’s happening that we lose sight of the what else is happening for our teachers. The last two weeks of term are going to be super busy with annual school events in addition to the regular meaningful stuff that needs to get done.

Looking ahead what does our time budget need to allow for?:
*Next term there are Parent Teacher Conference nights at the start of term.
*We are also introducing a new report format to all and this needs some facilitation.
*And we are in the final step of shifting to creating digital portfolios for and of student learning, which for some teachers means big changes.
*Every unit in maths and units of inquiry is new to our new teachers and our inquiry pedagogy is brand new to some.
*Each year level team has at least one new staff member and so are still adjusting to the new dynamics that come with that.
*In addition, teachers are supporting the social and emotional well-being of their students and needing to communicate with parents and do the usual daily essentials.
*In their efforts to lead balanced lives we encourage our teachers to look after their own well-being and our Learning Team Leaders to also look out for their teams’ well-being.

This week I felt it was timely to remind our leaders that if we create the time for ongoing discussions and sharing, more people will be more inclined to take action and embed great practise as a result.

How can we create time to maintain the momentum started in our PD?
*Maybe LTLs can set aside 10 minutes regularly for reading and maybe leaving a comment on our shared teachers “Pictures of Practice” blog or http://www.langwitches.org/blog or whatedsaid.wordpress.com or any other blog teachers have found relevant and engaging.
*I could set aside times in a morning briefing for teachers to briefly share the next step in their journey or a blogpost they have read which has influenced their practice.
*The “now literacies” and the skills needed for embedding them in our teaching and learning practise could be revisited in future PD sessions.
*I welcome more suggestions.

Our teachers want to be the best they can be but we need to set them up for success. By the end of last week some felt close to their tipping point. Excited but also pressured. Tension is good but too much and it can become counter productive.

What ways do you have for managing the tipping point and creating time for your teachers?

Managing the tipping point (part 1) without losing sight of what’s important…

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The end of Term 1 is nearing and there is a lot happening for our teachers. All teachers are time poor. Managing the tipping point between flourishing and being overwhelmed is tricky because the tipping point is different for everyone. Sometimes the timing of priorities collide and this can tip the scales. We reached this point late this week and I ended up going against my better judgement in an effort to keep the scales balanced. I realised immediately that although I was keeping the scales balanced, it would only be a short term gain. The cost could end up being too high for some teachers and in my role, I need to ensure this is not the case where possible.

Let me set the scene…

This week our teachers have been immersed in professional learning under the guidance of Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches), a visiting expert. It’s been an inspirational few days and a busy time too as teachers have moved between teaching, meetings, professional development and wanting to implement their learning, blogging, duties, enrichment activities, replying to emails, etc. The tension has in fact been building over the last couple of weeks. By mid week, I realised (as did others) that the tipping point had been reached for some and was drawing nearer for others. I wondered what I could do to support teachers without disempowering them. In briefing on Thursday (and in one on one conversations with a few teachers), I expressed my understanding of the additional time pressure they are all under at the moment. I offered to teach their classes to free up time for them to communicate with their students’ parents and catch up on other professional responsibilities without feeling they were losing teaching and learning time with their students.

This was well received by some. A few felt this was placing additional pressure on them to fit this all in before the end of term.

Later on Thursday, I followed my Deputy Principal’s advice (who, in turn, recognised that some teachers were feeling overwhelmed) and I sent an email explaining that teachers do not need to contact all parents and to use their discretion as to who needs to be called. This did not sit comfortably with me and (as I explained to our Deputy Principal later:-)) I should not have done this as this is not setting teachers up for success in their ongoing relationship with all parents. He agreed with me. Following two separate conversations re this matter with parents on Friday (one was sharing how happy she was with her child’s teacher’s communication and the other was voicing exactly the opposite as she had not heard directly from her child’s General Studies teacher since Parent Orientation night) I decided it was in our best interests to explain why it is to their benefit to contact all parents this term. I did this via email to ensure clear communication to all concerned and time for teachers to process its content.

I reminded them of the following in what I hope is perceived as a supportive tone: Contacting all parents in our home class and number classes once (unless needs require more contact) every term is an expectation and something we do practise in our primary school. Parents expect to find out how their child has transitioned from one year level to another or one number group to another- they want to know if their child is happy and is learning. Parents want to know that their child’s class teacher cares about and understands the needs of their child. This is a reasonable expectation. Making contact via a phone call or email once a term, evidence shows, is positively received and goes a long way to earning parents’ trust and respect. This will also set teachers up for positive interactions with parents at school events and long term.

I do also know from experience that some phone calls can go on for a while and sometimes the teachers and parents end up playing phone tennis before successful contact is even made. This is time consuming. In addition, I recognise that during the previous two weeks all teachers have been time poor due to ongoing professional development, excursions, duties, enrichment, achrayim responsibilities, learning to use your MacBooks, setting up class blogs, planning, etc. The next two weeks is also going to be busy with seders, galas, PD and planning. I am genuinely happy to teach their classes to free them up to make their phone calls without worrying about losing teaching/learning time with their students. I have also offered to cover their duties or enrichment activity where possible. This is something I am willing to do throughout the year.

I apologised for sending mixed messages re. communication with parents.

One teacher contacted me within the hour to make arrangements for me to teach her class on Monday morning.

Prioritising – another way to create time…

In regards to our monthly newsletter requirement, I decided that in an eight week term, and taking into consideration all of the above, there is no time to send out a second newsletter at the end of this term as writing these and inserting photographs takes hours. In the same email I have simply asked teachers to ensure they have sent out one newsletter this term.

I do genuinely appreciate everything our teachers do and have huge respect for what they accomplish every day, week, month and year. I have not forgotten what it’s like.

What ways do you have for managing the tipping point and creating time for your teachers?

Valuing your staff and investing in their well-being.

Tonight is our Staff Association Gala Dinner and I, for one, am really looking forward to the opportunity to socialise, relax, laugh, (hopefully dance) and enjoy great food and the company of my dedicated colleagues. Opportunities to do this are scarce in the working week as everyone is focused on teaching, learning and well-being which makes us all incredibly busy.

At Scopus I admire the effort leaders make to let their staff know their commitment to teaching, learning and student well-being is greatly appreciated. This appreciation is also expressed by teachers towards leaders and teachers towards teachers. Valuing each other is one of the key factors which makes our school the caring and supportive environment that it is. This appreciation is demonstrated in different ways by different individuals and groups.

Our Learning Team Leaders
notice and acknowledge the efforts of the members of their team
make an effort to create a collegial, caring, inclusive atmosphere where every individual’s strengths are utilised and needs are considered
create opportunities for and encourage people to share what they are learning
take an interest in what’s happening and notice peoples’ efforts
and more.

Our Curriculum Leaders:
publicly (and privately) commend people’s efforts to innovate and implement good practice via emails, discussions at meetings, blogs, twitter, sharing people’s efforts at professional development and professional chat groups, over a coffee, learning groups
create opportunities for and encourage people to share what they are learning
take an interest in what’s happening and notice peoples’ efforts
are reflective and innovative and always looking to enhance learning
give people the freedom to innovate and implement change,
and more.

Our Deputy Principal of Primary:
privately and publicly acknowledges people and their achievements,
allocates money to make fresh fruit available every day and a weekly winter lunch of soup and baguette,
generously makes it possible for teachers to plan collaboratively in school time and participate in professional development before and during school time
takes an interest in what’s happening and notices peoples’ efforts
is reflective and innovative and always looking for ways to support his staff
gives people the freedom to innovate and implement change,
and more.

Our Staff Association also invests in staff wellbeing by:
negotiating best work place agreements
ensuring fair treatment for all its members
providing free advice for members and non-members
conducting surveys to stay informed and give each staff member a voice
taking action on issues
organising social events such as massages, bowling, BBQs, breakfasts and, this year, a Gala dinner,
and more.

Our College values the efforts of all staff and shows this by:
acknowledging and rewarding years of service,
contributing money to social events like our Gala dinner, BBQs and brunches
meeting regularly with Staff Association members and adopting proposals considered to benefit teaching and learning
generously investing in professional development for all staff
giving staff the freedom to choose professional development that best meets their goals, needs and interests
generously investing in resources to enhance teaching and learning including iPads for each teacher
creating “Personal Necessity Leave” – especially created so staff can attend to personal needs
and more.

Our teachers:
notice and acknowledge the efforts their colleagues, leaders and admin staff go to to make our school a welcoming, inspiring and enjoyable place to work
and more.

Who wouldn’t want to work here!

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

Over the last two years I have changed and grown professionally…

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

knew exactly where my lesson was going from start to finish, from introduction to plenary, from activity to activity, did most of the talking, was the conduit for student talking, controlled who sat where and who spoke when, made all the decisions, expected students to respond to the engagements in the same way, controlled the time and space for learning, made a lot of assumptions about student learning and owned the learning.

Fortunately, I am also reflective and have always wanted to do what’s best for my students’ learning. I just didn’t always fully understand how to teach so kids can learn. My understanding has grown exponentially and I have undergone a substantial paradigm shift.

Now, when I’m at my best, I’m the kind of teacher who…

knows where I want us to focus conceptually, plans thoughtful and purposeful engagements to this end, notices and listens to my students’ thinking and follows their lead, caters for differences in learning styles and abilities, values and is mindful of making the time and space for learning, talks less and listens more, encourages students to make their own decisions, focuses on developing skills and attitudes to enable student decision making and independence, looks for evidence, makes student thinking explicit, actively encourages collaboration and student ownership of learning.

I have some way to go and I’m excited to go there. I look forward to who I will be in a year’s time…

How did letting go, go?

Letting go…

For background to this momentous step forward please refer to my post: Ownership of learning: a big step forward.

I apologise for a lack of visuals in this post, but I was so engrossed in the process of noticing and naming; and consciously engaging and interacting with my students in a way so as to promote ownership of learning, that I forgot to take photos!! I am still on a high from the awesomeness of it all!

Who has used a map?
This was my opening question to my students who responded with enthusiasm.

I then asked them to consider and record their response to this question: What are the criteria for making a good map?

I then asked them if there are criteria that a good map should include that they may not have considered – they agreed. To which I responded, “Let’s find out.”

I put the question on the smart-board: What are the criteria for making a good map? Show your understanding in any way you like.

I followed this with an brief explanation of my intention, “I want to hand over the learning to you rather than control it. Before you approach me with a question, please ask yourself: Who owns the learning?” I then wrote this question on another board as a reminder to them and to myself.

We then discussed the skills and attitudes they could need for the task.
I scribed their responses on the board:
research,
thinking,
mapping,
problem solving,
decision making.
As they inquired and problem solved, I made a point of naming the skills they were using so we added these to our list as time went by.

Next I asked them to consider the attitudes they could need to demonstrate? They responded:
patience,
persistence,
creativity,
cooperation,
risk taking,
tolerance,
independence,
confidence,
enthusiasm.

Part of letting go included allowing time for reflection. We used a familiar structure for doing this:
1. What went well?
2. What challenges did you face?
3. How did you solve these?
4. What attitude do you still need to work on?
5. What skills do you still need to work on?

Here is a collection of responses…
1. Finding information and organising it; we showed persistence; cooperated; finding pictures; confidence; helping each other; organising ourselves by dividing up the responsibilities.
2. When I got stuck I didn’t know what to do; no patience; no risk taking; concentration at times; technology and making decisions; at first we didn’t know what we were doing; cooperation; time limit; team work; when we all wanted to present in different ways.
3. Asked friends; worked with the teacher; tried a different way; we stuck to our agreement; asked the teacher; compromised.
4. Patience and risk taking; creativity; commitment; cooperation; respect; positive attitude; reflective; openminded.
5. Decision making; cooperation and communication; thinking; research; problem solving; computer skills.

What did I notice and what did I learn today?

* handing ownership to the students naturally differentiates according to needs and learning styles;
* my learners are engaged in their own learning and so stay on task
* they collaborate as they need;
* they find ways to solve their problems;
* asking a question to answer their question is more effective than giving them the answer;
* pointing to the question: “Who owns the learning?” was enough of a reminder for them to make the decision for themselves;
* I am more available for the kids who need more support.

Will I do this again?

For sure!

Why?

Ownership of learning promotes learning! Duh!

Sent from my iPad

Ownership of learning – a big step forward!

The Inquiry Cycle  by Stephen Kemmis The Inquiry Cycle
by Stephen Kemmis.

I am participating in an action research project with a few other enthusiastic colleagues. The idea behind it is to inquire deeply through the cycle of noticing, reflecting and acting.

We are connecting our inquiry to our school’s learning principles. Thus far we have unpacked some of the learning principles, identified the area which really interests us, created our action research questions (these are refined on an ongoing basis), watched engaging youtube videos, referred to relevant blog posts and been highly engaged in thinking, questioning and discussion.

On Thursday it was my turn to share my process thus far. The protocol for sharing is: the speaker shares their process without being interrupted. Next, the members of the group respond through directing questions to the speaker and they are only allowed to ask questions. Following this kind of protocol puts all the focus on that individual’s inquiry and for me it was deeply satisfying and hugely encouraging. I left our session with an even stronger sense of clarity, purpose, motivation and was on high for the rest of the day.

This is the first time I have experienced a discussion taking place in this way and I found it to be an incredibly powerful tool for deepening thinking and eliciting possible areas for further investigation. I didn’t feel anxious or defensive and admired my colleagues’ restraint and commitment to the protocol as it is our tendency to have messy discussions (which are also great for promoting thinking and developing understanding).

What next…

1. I am refining my question for now as the original version incorporated several parts and the essence of my inquiry is clearly ownership of learning. Thus my question has been refined to:
How can I promote ownership of learning in my learners?

2. I realised the need for mindfulness on my part and planning with this intention in mind so I will be asking myself the question: “Who owns the learning?” all the time. I will also be using the Gradual release of responsibility continuum as a means to clarify who really is owning the learning in the learning engagements when planning.

3. I am going to notice and name the behaviour and highlight to my students and myself when ownership of learning is happening .

4. I am going to hand over control of the learning at the beginning of the lesson and set aside time at time at the end of the lesson for reflecting on what happened.

What happened later in the day…

I found myself consciously noticing and naming behaviours that demonstrated ownership of learning. As I was doing this I realised this is happening more than I initially thought. I also realised, once the students had gone home and I was reflecting on the day, that I had missed a few opportunities for naming ownership of learning and I can’t wait to start the day by celebrating those behaviours with my students.

What happened during the night…

I thought about the location lesson I had in mind for today and put it to the litmus test: “Who owns the learning?” Not my students.

What to do?…

As this is the start of a new numeracy unit I grappled with my concern that some of my students might not know enough to manage their learning and my genuine desire to hand over control. I thought back to Jocelyn’s observation that messy learning is learning and her reassurance that students find their way through the mess. I decided that this was a golden opportunity to believe in my students.

So, I have decided to re-schedule our guided reading session and give my students a big block of time (4 lessons today and more next week) so they can work at their pace to construct meaning according to their learning style.

I am trying to use the “flipped classroom” model as a guide for letting go.I came across this graphic on twitter last night and thought I would use it as a visual for my students when introducing the task.

The flipped classroom model.

What do I plan to do:

Ask an open question and set an open task:
What makes a map great? Show your thinking in any way you like.

Use what you have learned about maps to create your own map for visitors to our school to use to find their way from our reception to the kitchen garden.

I will let them decide if and when they want to collaborate. And, of course, I will let them decide everything else.

As I write this my excitement is growing exponentially and I can’t wait to hand over control.