Giving teacher’s a voice without overloading them – how do leaders do this?

Teachers want to and should be heard – how do leaders do this without overloading teachers with priorities to address? On Thursday morning three people on the Report Committee facilitated a report review session. Reporting is a hot topic that generates many opinions and stress for many teachers and leaders. Reports take a lot of time to write for not so much reward some feel. No format is perfect, parents don’t always appreciate the truth, capturing the essence of a learner in writing is not easy are other observations.At our school we have wanted to improve reporting for a long time and have heard great ideas. But it turns out that our options are limited. At our school, we have got much better at collaborating – so why didn’t we collaborate sooner with teachers? Due to the following, we decided not to hold discussions with all staff to gather input in an organised way (we did get input from a few):

  • The technical system we use to generate reports limits the changes we can make;
  • Our aim is to not make the report writing process even more complicated and time consuming for teachers than it already is;
  • We had already put into practice shifting the focus from work to learning and the learner;
  • Everything we say/write about a student has to be evidence based not opinion;
  • The requirements to use a 5 point A to E scale and include comparative reports are not negotiable.

Furthermore, Term 1 was 8 weeks long and priorities and PD left insufficient time for collaborating about reports. Creating the time and space to give teachers a voice becomes a choice between collaboration and preserving sanity.
With all of the above valid points in mind, we realised as a leadership group, there was not much wriggle room for change and the kinds of changes teachers and leaders were desiring (evidenced from informal discussions with some teachers who feel strongly about reporting), would not be possible to make or would not be practical to implement.

Questions I have been pondering:

  • As a leader, does one try one’s best to avoid pushing teachers over the tipping point by looking out for teachers’ workload and well being or do you consult on everything to ensure everyone has a voice?
  • Realising only minor changes can be made to reports, should leaders do the best job they can under the circumstances without whole school collaboration?
  • Does one consult with a few or all when the timing doesn’t allow further consultation without risking burn out by holding another before school meeting to give teachers a voice, only to tell them their suggestions can’t be taken into consideration?
  • Even with attempting to consciously limit priorities, teachers and leaders feel pressured as there is never enough time to do these justice, so do you add to the priorities so that all stakeholders can have a say?

I remember clearly the feeling of frustration at not being consulted on decisions that directly impacted me as a classroom teacher. I also remember at times realizing afterwards that being included although it would have felt fair, was not going to change the outcome in those instances.

Sometimes it’s not feasible to give everyone a voice. Knowing when to and knowing how to, makes all the difference to the outcome.

Additional questions i have been pondering on include: With our reports it turns out that a total of three changes were made to the report format. Only one of these is a completely new addition. Did this make it worth it to hold a discussion with all staff in Term 1? We thought not. Did we do the right thing in not formally including enough teacher voices in our discussion earlier on? Probably not. Should we have added this to the agenda for year level teams to discuss in their meetings when they already had enough to discuss and decide upon? Definitely but when? Is it too late for teachers to have a voice? No.

Following our report review session with teachers, the three facilitators of the Report Review session met and debriefed. We analysed concerns teachers raised and figured out what our next steps could be.

A summary of all the points teachers made was sent to Learning Team Leaders to review and add to in preparation for their weekly meeting with the Director of Teaching and Learning. At the meeting potential issues were debated, team leaders were given a voice and next steps were decided. They felt they should have been consulted sooner. Certain aspects of the report will be taken back to their team. They will then be the voice for their team at the next LTL meeting and be a part of the decision to include or exclude the proposed new addition.

The second biggest issue to come out of the review session was teachers feel that the changes (introduced three years ago but implemented across the school at the end of last year) makes some comments feel generic and that their writers voice has been lost. We have heard you and as a moderator/ editor I make a commitment to you to do my best to preserve your writers’ voice should I suggest any changes to your comments.

One solution we have tried to ensure teachers voices are heard is to collaborate with Learning Team Leaders on what our priorities should be for the term and year ahead. Somehow reports were left off the list of priorities.
We robbed teachers of their voices – this brings me back to my original question: how else could one ensure teachers have a voice when there are already enough priorities on the agenda and PD schedule?


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:
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:
risk taking,

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!


Ownership of learning promotes learning! Duh!

Sent from my iPad

Creating authentic reflective learners who feel empowered to take ownership of their learning…

Every day I reflect on my efforts to support my students to take ownership of their learning. This is a dual process of me letting go and them taking ownership. Recently I decided that I also want to celebrate successes in their learning more explicitly- even small ones. Some of my students become anxious and put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well. They can be harsh judges and I want them to notice positive developments in their learning.

Having read Sam’s recent blog post on mindfuness , it dawned on me that it was time to introduce another two layers to our reflections on our learning. We have been using the following three questions to guide our reflections in our bubble catcher journal: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? and How am I doing? From there my students would set goals for the following week and develop a plan of action for achieving their goals.

The challenge for several students has been in developing a relevant plan of action to help them achieve their goal. I have also recently read an article on positive education (“Positive education: positive pyschology and classroom interventions” by Martin E. P. Seligman and others) and decided to combine a strategy Sam uses with one mentioned in the article.

Sam’s: What skills will you need to achieve your goal? What attitudes will you need to demonstrate to achieve your goal?

Seligman et al’s: What Went Well?

A new strategy for reflecting…I began by instructing my students to close their eyes and picture a recent event in their lives, in which they were involved, which had gone well. I asked them to notice what they were doing and how they were feeling during the event.

We then shared their thinking and I scribed. We were able to sort their responses under skills used during the event and attitudes demonstrated during the event. They then had another go with this strategy.

From here I asked them to set a goal for themselves. I then asked them to identify which skills they would need to use and which attitudes they would need to demonstrate in order to achieve their goal.

Without prompting a few students commented that this would be really helpful. We then talked more about ownership of learning and how identifying the skills and attitudes we will need, could help us to achieve our goals including that of taking ownership of our learning.

I am excited and hopefully they are too.

Start with the positive…


Start where each learner is at every time! Start with the positive.

Today I watched Rita Pierson’s TED Talk: Every child needs a champion I drew great pleasure from her very important message to build relationships with all of your students. In my role as teacher, one of my responsibilities as I see it, is to advocate for each and every child under my care. (Sadly, not every teacher agrees.)

2+ versus -18
I don’t always succeed at focusing on the 2+. I can become frustrated and focus on the -18 instead. I can forget to understand what’s happening and focus instead on not being understood.
I totally agree with Rita, focusing on what the child can do and using that as a starting point for the conversation about where to go next is crucial to that child’s self belief. To quote from the TED talk, “-18 sucks all the life out of you. +2 says I ain’t all bad!” Starting from the positive tells that child you believe in them and in their potential.

You won’t like every child…
I also agree with Rita when she states that you will not like every child that comes under your care, BUT it is important that they never know this. For obvious reasons. I work hard at building positive relationships with my children, but being human, I don’t always get it right. Negative reactions (even small ones) can undo a lot of positive groundwork when students are feeling vulnerable.

Tomorrow, as a reminder to myself to focus on the positive first, I am going to put up a few signs around my learning area which simply says 2+ . No doubt my kids will ask why and I will share this story with them. Maybe they will want to use the 2+ as a reminder to focus on the positive first in their interactions with others.

So how have I changed? How have my students changed?

Over the two week holiday, I reflected on Term 1. It gave me great pleasure to think about how my students had changed over the eight week period. I acknowledged how I had grown as a teacher and where I could have done better. I made connections between the changes in me and the changes I observed in my students.

Changes I noticed in my students:

they own more of the learning
they value reflection
they are more inclined to take risks in their learning
they are becoming more collaborative
they embrace opportunities to think
they drive the learning more
they solve problems more independently
they set relevant authentic goals

Changes I noticed in myself:

I am more mindful of letting go and am better at giving students control over their learning
I make significant time for reflection and provide scaffolds to support their reflective process
I have created a safe environment and encourage and celebrate risk taking
I have created many opportunities for explicitly and implicitly developing collaboration
I talk much less and give them much more opportunities and time to think and wonder
I listen, observe and analyse in order to follow their lead
I hand problems back to them to solve
I make time to discuss the kind of student they want to become

Yesterday I read Bruce Ferrington’s latest blog post which makes the connection between setting high expectations and supporting these with action and it occurred to me that this is what I have been doing in Term One more successfully than before. I have always set high expectations for each of my students, but what I am doing better this time round is supporting them to achieve them by taking the appropriate action.

My goals for Term 2:

For me it all boils down to our one overriding goal which is to create authentic, reflective learners who own their learning. I say “our” as my students now want this for themselves too.

How do I achieve this goal?
By continuing to notice, reflect, act.
Notice what I do. Notice what they do.
Reflect on what I have done. Reflect on what they have done.
Take action that will bring them closer to achieving our goal.

It’s not easy, but it feels so right.

“How can I develop authentic reflective learners?” take #5

In an earlier post I shared about my plans for developing authentic reflective learners who move towards taking ownership of their learning.

At first my students’ reflections were quite simplistic and focused on their behaviour, which was relevant but I wanted them to go deeper. We have now been through the “River of Learning” reflective process three times. Bearing in mind that reflection happens on an ongoing basis for my learners, the students’ weekly reflections now show greater insight into their efforts to be reflective and to take ownership of their learning.

The weekly “River of Learning” reflective process is being owned more by them too. They ask to do it and most don’t need me to support them anymore. They are engaged and the sharing is purposeful and sincere.

I love reading their reflections and their goals. I am so excited for my students and for myself. I am learning to let go and they are learning to take ownership.

Leaders don’t always set their teachers up for success…

Today, after a week of intense planning meetings, teaching, reflection, late nights spent blogging, participating in professional PD via twitter chat, trying to support my team in my role as LTL, trying to support my students academic, social and emotional needs, make phone calls to parents, attending other meetings, I dropped the ball.

I fell into the trap of trying to finish an important piece of administration while my students were left to independently reflect on their week. Instead I should have been conferencing with those who find this a challenging task and encouraging those who were finding it hard to push through the obvious reflective statements so they could gain a deeper insight into themselves as learners.

I haven’t read their reflections yet and I’m proud of them for giving it a go, but I feel if I had been more present then our day would have ended on a better note as some lost focus and started to fool around. This distracted others and the reflective mood was lost and I tried valiantly to get them back on board but it was too late. I had not set them up for success as this was only the second time we were trying to reflect in this way.

This got me thinking again about teachers being set up for success by their leaders. Having different leaders each wearing their hat can be very challenging for the classroom teacher. Each leader has their agenda. And even though we are aiming to be transdisciplinary in our approach to teaching the curriculum, we still have to deal with the demands of the Australian curriculum. In addition we are trying to get to know our students, build a supportive, caring and engaging learning environment, take into account students’ learning needs and differentiate for that, get to know our students emotional needs and work out the best way we can support them. As it’s the start of the school year we are also dealing with a lot of assessment and all the hours of analysis that goes with that. Even with many years of teaching experience under my belt and a burning passion for teaching and learning, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted and its only week 4.

Everybody’s goals are relevant and important, but only one person can make these goals a reality – the general studies teacher. Leaders can forget how much the General Studies teacher is trying to accomplish- especially at the start of the year. This takes a lot of pleasure out of the start to a new school year and can create a lot of unnecessary tension.

Leaders don’t always set their teachers up for success.

We need to find a way to manage intense times of the school year better. We need to prioritise our goals for the first month and not let other things get in the way. They can wait. I believe the start of the year is about establishing a culture of learning with our students. The start of the year is for creating a wonderful learning environment.

How do other school leaders manage the first month of the school year? What are their priorities? Are their teachers feeling overwhelmed and exhausted too?