Having completed my Masters in Religious Education in 2012, my love of study and pang to do more niggled away at me throughout last year. I found study so stimulating and loved the many unexpected places and people it led me too. My ‘study buddies’ from my previous course are a great group of friends and we still try and get together ocassionally, the conversation inevitably turning towards school!
Study Buddies for M.RE
So now I eagerly await the ‘launch’ of my Masters in Educational Leadership course tomorrow! I can’t wait to get started and find out the unit requirements and get stuck into some reading. It seems like the logical next step in my ‘career’ but also in my learning to pursue excellence in leadership through gaining both increased experience and increased knowledge. This course will be different as the majority of it will be completed in an online space. I am really hoping that this still enables me to develop a sense of community and connection with my fellow students and that this move into online learning exposes me to new ways to learn and express my learning. This is what I am exploring in my classroom with my students constantly.
On 17/18th October, the Holy Spirit Community School Leadership Team had the privilege of going away together to the gorgeous RACV Club in Healesville for two days of professional learning together. This was a unique opportunity to spend quality time together, away from the constant distractions at school, to focus on how we work together and what it is we want to focus on energies on.
The first day was facilitated by Helen Goode who reminded us that it is only in knowing ourselves and how we work that we can reach out and work effectively with others. To this end, we completed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to discover (or rediscover for several of us) what our preferred way of being is. Individually, this was interesting but our profile as a team was illuminating. We were able to see our similarities and differences and identify the strengths that we have as a team. It also enabled us to see where our soft spots as a team may be, and where we each may need to step up and operate out of our ‘less preferred’ modes. The discussion that ensued from this session was rich, collegial and very affirming in many ways. We also shared our personal challenges with one another; as Helen said, what is ‘in our boots’ that we often default to when unsure, nervous, threatened. This was also enlightening!
Friday we set about to define our purpose as a leadership team. This took some time and much reworking and the discussion arising out of this task was most worthwhile. What is our ‘core business?’ What should our focus be? What is worth attending to? We eventually came up with the following statement:
The purpose of the Leadership Team at Holy Spirit Community School is to build a strong culture of trust and empowerment within our community, enacting our shared vision to achieve the goals of the School Improvement Plan. Improved student outcomes are our core business. The key values of the Leadership Team are respect, openness, honesty and courage. The nurturing of relationships is central to our ability to achieve our purpose.
This statement makes us accountable for both our time and our actions and as we now have a shared understanding of how each of us operate within the team through the MBTI, we also have a shared language. We fleshed out what each of our team values would look and sound like, which also promotes accountability as our goals and ideals are clear.
We have a team ‘motto’ to act as a quick reminder about how we want to work:
“Backpacks off, eyes down, value add”
Backpacks refer to our individual leadership roles – we need to be able to look globally at what ever issue we are discussing and see it from multiple perspectives, not just literacy, or RE, or Well Being.
Eyes down refers to imagining we are in a helicoptor, looking down at the big picture of our school community and its needs.
Value add – if we are not doing this as a team, what is the point??
Now the hard work begins – living out the ideals and goals we have set for ourselves. If we are able to do this, each of us will be better, more effective and empowering leaders and our team and school will be focused on the best possible outcomes for each of our students.
AITSL recently offered principals and teachers holding leadership positions the opportunity to participate in the 360 Reflection Tool process. I jumped at the chance! This involved me filling in a questionnaire and writing two narratives, one about my school context and one about how I perceived my strengths and challenges. I also asked each member of the leadership team and my current and former level leaders to complete the questionnaire. This involved both a scale rating in response to statements and the opportunity to write some anecdotal comments.
My initial response to receiving the report from AITSL was one of excitement – I could not wait to find a few moments to sit and read it through quietly. There were two things that stood out for me as I read through the graphs and comments:
I was significantly harder on myself than were my colleagues. I have observed this same phenomena when students write self reflections or self assess their work and I am frequently commenting to them that they should not be so hard on themselves!! It is interesting that we seem to find it so difficult to really acknowledge what we are good at.
When I read the areas for improvement, it was confronting in some ways and I did reread them several times! Interestingly, when I decided to compare what the group had identified as my areas of challenge, they were virtually identical to the areas I had identified for myself. This made the groups’ comments far less confronting and I realised that it is actually a very positive thing to know that I am perceived by my peers in a way that aligns with how I see myself as a professional.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will digest the report further and mull over the opportunities it has presented me for learning and improvement. Stay tuned for another post … AND … if the opportunity to participate in 360 Reflection comes up, I would heartily recommend taking it up.
This is the final reflection in a series of 3 on the AITSL Self Reflection Tool. I completed this tool at the beginning of this year and have found it most helpful in directing my Professional Learning this year. In this post, I reflect on the section of the tool titled Professional Engagement.
Areas of Strength
6.3 L Initiate and engage in professional discussions with colleagues in a range of forums to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice, and the educational outcomes of students.
I love this aspect of my job! I enjoy any opportunity to share new ideas, innovative practices, classroom strategies and what I have read recently. In my position as Religious Education Leader, I have the opportunity to plan and facilitate collegial dialogue on a regular basis. This can take a variety of forms including engaging as adults with our ‘big question’ for the term in RE, sharing a useful new app I have discovered, inviting staff to share what has worked recently in their classrooms, sharing and responding to some professional reading or a relevant YouTube clip. This is a clip I used recently to stimulate discussion about what we want to be mindful of in our Inquiry Planning for RE next term, 10 Expectations. I work in a dynamic team of 5/6 teachers and I relish our team meetings as a great chance for each of us to share our successes, our failures and our challenges. This leads to learning for each of us and I value the fact that each of us is open to innovation and creativity and constantly seeks to improve learning opportunities for each of our students.
7.4 L Contribute to professional networks and associations and build productive links with the wider community to improve teaching and learning
In the years since my return to teaching in 2009, I have been very active in our RE Network. I have been on the Executive Planning Team for the past 2 years and have presented or facilitated at almost every Network Meeting since I joined the Network in 2009. I have blogged here about many of my presentations. My contributions have been well received and led to many opportunities to share ideas and practices with individual members within the network. I have tried to build a twitter PLN for RE Leaders within the zone and although some members are active, this is still a work in progress! I am an active and enthusiastic ‘tweeter’ professionally and have found this to be a rich and varied source of Professional Learning. My participation in twitter has led to many innovations and changes in my teaching practice. I find my PLN a constant source of inspiration and have found many new resources and read many great articles, blog posts etc through it. I would not have found the Self Reflection Tool without it! With my students, I have tried to make our learning more connected and our class blog has been brilliant for this. We have been able to share our learning with not only family and friends but learners from all over the world. Quadblogging has greatly enhanced our connectedness and initiatives from @theheadsoffice such as blogdipping also enable us to share our learning globally.
Areas for Development
6.1 P Analyse the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers to plan personal professional development goals, support colleagues to identify and achieve personal development goals and pre-service teachers to improve classroom practice.
Our Leadership Team has discussed the need for each of us on staff to have our own Professional Learning Plan. I think this is an exciting step forward! I am very aware of some areas in my own teaching that I would like to improve in but at present, this is really up to me to manage and monitor. I am lucky to have some great colleagues that I can have frank and open discussions with but would like the opportunity to have this more formalised. We are also investigating the notion of feedback and the impact that can have on improving teaching practice and student outcomes. Many schools are well ahead of us in this field but beginning the journey is promising and something to look forward to professionally and personally.
7.1 G Maintain high ethical standards and support colleagues to interpret codes of ethics and exercise sound judgement in all schools and community contexts.
This is something that each and every one of us in the teaching profession must always work hard for. It is imperative that we remember every day that we are dealing with people; not data, not numbers, not statistics, but human beings. In this era of data, it is all too easy to get lost in the numbers. I am not disputing the value of data to inform our teaching and help drive improved student learning, but I think we must always remember that teachers’ knowledge of students is far richer than the data we may have about them. When we keep student learning at the centre of all our actions and decisions, it is far easier to maintain high ethical standards. High ethical standards also call me to strive harder to personalise learning for each of my students. I want each of my students to have equal opportunity to learn and thrive in our classroom and acknowledge that this requires different things for different students.This is an area which I am working on currently, trying to meet the individual needs of 28 students in creative and productive ways. I have found ICT a rich tool for helping to diversify learning opportunities, experiences and expression and enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to engage and inspire my students.
I would highly recommend the use of AITSL’s self reflection tool. It is enabled me to see my role as teacher and leader more broadly and perhaps consider some aspects of these roles in new ways. Give it a go!
As part of our REL Network, each leader has taken on an Inquiry project. Mine is centered around student thinking. I have observed that many of my students are fairly happy to give the ‘stock standard’, expected answers in RE discussions and I would really like to see them pushing their own thinking more deeply and make those connections that will make their faith relevant to them in their lives. Our current unit is about the concept of relationships and whether having a relationship with God impacts the world.
To stimulate the students to think about how relationships work, I used the following clip:
Students were asked to post on our class padlet their thoughts on where God was in this clip. This is what they came up with;
There were some interesting thoughts posted but most were fairly predictable. I wanted them to go further so I grabbed my copy of Visible Thinking and looked for a thinking protocol I could use with this clip. I decided to use I See, I Think, I Wonder to see where that would take my student’s thinking. This routine prompted some really meaty discussion in the class as each student responded to the prompts. The wonderings were the most interesting with students coming up some surprising and challenging statements. We then got into groups and students collated their responses and came up with their top ‘see, think, wonder’ statements. The groups then set about creating posters. One student asked me “What should the title of the poster be?” to which I initially replied not to worry about a title. Then I realised that creating a title would make their thinking even more visible to me and the other students. Some of the titles they came up with were great!
So having stretched the students thinking, what next? I know I want to go further with them, and having had a conversation about this with our RESA, Deirdre, I have been challenged to now put something provocative before the students to challenge them to think about the situations where God is not so readily visible. As we are doing Natural Disasters at present, that should tie in quite nicely. I think I also need to go back to Visible Thinking and find some other thinking routines that will enable students to view the stimulus in a different way. And I also need to check in with the students again. I wonder if I used the initial video clip again, whether their responses may be deeper already having thought about it in a different way??
This is the second post written after completing the AITSL Self Assessment Tool for teachers. This post is my reflection on the section of the tool titled Professional Engagement and my areas of strength and areas for development. For me, this really prompted me to think about how I see myself as a learner and how am I enabling and supporting the learning of my colleagues.
Areas of Strength:
6.3L Initiate and engage in professional discussions with colleagues in a range of forums to evaluate practice directed at improving professional knowledge and practice, and the educational outcomes of students.
As part of a dynamic 5/6 teaching team this year, I have many opportunities to engage in collegial discussion about how to improve learning opportunities and outcomes for our students. Sometimes these discussions are data driven, using the data collected to plan a pathway forward for our students. Other times, these are idea sharing dialogues where each of us can contribute our thoughts, resources and plans for discussion and consideration. As the Religious Education Leader in our school, I believe it is my role to provide opportunities for staff to engage in rich, collegial discussion and have worked hard to build this into every meeting that I lead. In planning meetings, this discussion may take the form of personal reflection on the ‘big question’ we are using for inquiry with our students. The discussion may other times be based on some professional reading I have shared, or on specific issues such as the integration of ICT into our RE units. I have posted about the development of our ‘culture of dialogue’ previously. This has been a worthy pursuit as a leader and staff now value these times as opportunities to build knowledge and gain from the insights and experiences of one another.
7.4L Contribute to professional networks and associations and build productive links with the wider community to improve teaching and learning
Many of the connections built in this area have come about through my PLN on twitter which has afforded me opportunities to participate in twitter chats (#teacherwellbeingchat #summerbookclub #ozprimschat), attend TeachMeets, exchange ideas and resources and ask questions. I am hopeful that I am able to contribute to the professional growth of my twitter PLN as they do over and over again for me. I am a member of the Executive Planning Team for the Eastern Region Religious Education Network and have had the opportunity to have input into the Professional Learning offered to the network and be a presenter on several occasions. My students have also benefited from my twitter PLN as we are now participants in initiatives such as quadblogging which not only build connections for the students, but also for me as a professional.As written about in the previous post, I am currently exploring a partnership with LLEN and continue to work hard to maintain our school’s integral links to our Parish and wider local community.
Areas for Development
6.1P Analyse the Professional Standards for Teachers to plan personal professional development goals, support colleagues to identify and achieve personal development goals and pre-service teachers to improve classroom practice.
One goal that has come out of completing the Self Assessment Tool is my intention to address the Professional Standards for Teachers on this blog. I would like to set up a new page where I can keep a record of how I am meeting the Professional Standards, highlighting the areas of focus for me each term. I would love for each member of our Leadership Team to complete the Self Assessment Tool as I believe once completed, the possibilities for future learning and development become so much clearer. This may give the team the impetus to start using such a tool with the staff and committing to Personal Learning Plans for each staff member. This will build a pathway towards more personalised learning for the staff, something we strive to achieve for our students but not often for ourselves!
7.1G Maintain high ethical standards and support colleagues to interpret codes of ethics and exercise sound judgement in all school and community contexts.
At Holy Spirit Community School, our ethical stance comes directly from our Vision Statement which opens with the quote from Galatians which calls us to live out the fruits of the Spirit in every aspect of our lives:
“… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22
Whilst this quote obviously has a very specific context, the values it espouses are ones that many people would aspire to in their interactions and relationships. This is very challenging in any context, but particularly in a school where so much diversity exists. I think it is vital that our Vision Statement is placed before all of our community regularly, to remind us of what is of value to us, to challenge our decisions and behaviors and to guide our policy making.
Once again, the Self Assessment Tool has provided me with much food for thought as well as some concrete actions I would like to take to further my own learning and journey as a professional educator. I can highly recommend the process as both affirming and challenging and would love to share in some other’s experiences and reflections.
Stay tuned for the next post coming soon on ‘Professional Practice’.
I have recently completed the AITSL Self Assessment Tool online and am starting to consider what I have learned about my strengths and areas for development. For this post, I will focus on the area of Professional Knowledge.
I have noted two areas of strength from the tool:
1.2L Expand understanding of how students learn using research and workplace knowledge
Having just completed my Masters, there have been a myriad of opportunities presented to me for accessing current research about best practice for contemporary learning. One of the things I enjoyed most about my study was the many interesting places it took me, often quite unexpectedly. I may have been reading a particular article or similar online but it was often the links that were really interesting. For me, studying was the beginning of my relationship with Diigo, and I have continued to curate many resources since. Over the past few months, I have also been doing some professional reading in areas of interest to me including Visible Learning, Comprehension and Collaboration, Making Thinking Visible and The Cafe Book. My PLN on twitter has been instrumental in my own learning also. Over the past 12 months, I have connected with many inspiring educators and learnt about things such as PBL and CBL – in fact it is quite likely I would not have even known about the great work AITSL is doing as it does not seem to be on the agenda in the Catholic system in Melbourne as yet.
2.2L Exhibit innovative practice in the selection and organisation of content and delivery of learning and teaching programs
I have worked hard since my return to teaching 4 years ago, after a 10 year break, to try new ways of working within my classroom. My perspective has changed enormously during this period and I now truly see myself as a learner (I have blogged about this transformation previously). I love the shift this has made in my thinking and in my openness to the learning of my students. I feel much less like the expert imparting knowledge and more like a co-learner, sharing the journey, asking some enabling questions, being challenged myself by the questions, and being open to units of work taking surprising directions. I love the addition of extra computers and a couple of iPads to my classroom as they enable the students to express their learning in far more personalised ways and I have tried to provide them with a more flexible learning space, within the confines of a traditional classroom. I think I still have much to learn in terms of innovation but it is great to feel like I am heading in the right direction.
My areas of development are:
1.4G Provide advice and support colleagues in the implementation of effective teaching strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students using knowledge of and support from community representatives.
This is somewhat of a tricky area for me as the school community I work in does not include Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students. I have however made some attempts to forge some connections with community groups in an effort to include the perspectives of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities throughout our curriculum. Through our PE teacher, I was able to connect with an organisation called Desert2Surf which engaged my class in some very student driven fundraising and and eventual meeting with some of the aboriginal students. This year, we have forged an association with LLEN and although progress is slow, we are hoping this may lead to some contact with our local aboriginal community as well as local businesses who can support us in our learning.
2.3L Support colleagues to plan and implement learning and teaching programs using contemporary knowledge and understanding of curriculum, assessment and reporting requirements.
This goal is an ongoing one. In my work as Leader of Religious Education, I have some opportunities to work directly with the whole staff in PLT meetings and staff meetings. We are fortunate in Victorian Catholic Schools to have a Contemporary Learning Schema that is useful in terms of planning and evaluating units of work across all areas of the curriculum. I feel our staff is doing very well in planning Inquiry units in Religious Education that are rich, diverse and authentic for our students, but it is the assessment and reporting aspect of the units that needs attention. I began to address this last year, working with our Teaching and Learning Leader, and using some professional reading to tune us back into what assessment is as, of and for learning and what might it look like in the contemporary classroom. We will continue to work on this aspect of our planning and the natural extension of that is to look at our reports and how we can truly reflect student learning, successes and challenges in them.
Maybe this Self Assessment Tool could be called the self reflection tool, as that is certainly what it has prompted in me! I think this is a positive thing as it has given my thinking around my practice as a teacher a framework and structure. Stay tuned for the next post on Professional Practice!
One of our final tasks for #etmooc is to create a 6 word story prior to #etmchat on the 27th March. The topic is: “What does it mean to be an educator and digital citizen? What is our special role?” I won’t be able to be part of the chat but have made a story anyway using haiku deck. Here it is …
Our Inquiry and RE units this term have focussed on the concepts of community and our place within the community. It has been a rich and diverse unit and we are now at the stage of expressing our learnings about what community is and how it can be built. This video was tweeted over January and as soon as I saw it, I knew I would use it.
After watching this video, students unanimously wanted to try something similar in our own community. We had also watched the Kid President video and are reading Wonder so the students’ minds were full of wonderful phrases (or in the language of Wonder, ‘precepts’) that they thought would be valuable to others. And away they went – busily creating posters with slogans to welcome people into our community. There is nothing much more rewarding than students asking if they can PLEEEASE work on something for longer or at home!
The day we planned to share our work with the community dawned and I had most of my students at school by 8.30am to prepare. They were very excited to say the least and the reaction we got from the community was truly awesome. It was wonderful to see the smiles on everyone’s faces as they read the student’s signs and the horns were honking so much, our lovely Julie in the office wondered what on earth was going on.
Students wrote heartfelt reflections on why they had chosen their particular slogan and the impact they felt it had had on our community. We could have talked for days about ways we can build community but actually getting out there and doing it was so much more powerful. Here is a Smilebox of our experiences:
Slideshow design made with Smilebox
It seems to me this was connected learning in so many ways. Through the inspiration of others who have built community in unique ways, to a class novel that is challenging our perceptions of community, to students taking on a project and making it their own, and then blogging about it on our class blog – so many levels of connectedness. These are the times when it feels great to be a teacher, when some of my learning is truly impacting on my students and we are all walking the walk together.
If you were to make a sign for your community, what would it say? How do you build community in your classroom, your school and your environs?
This year, I have attempted to streamline my record keeping and note taking in the classroom. I am sharing the grade with a new partner who has very willingly come along on this journey with me. We are both finding Evernote INVALUABLE for keeping anecdotal records, work programs, communication notes, testing results etc accessible and up to date for both of us. Here are some of the ways we are using it:
Communication - we record notes for each other on how our days have gone, issues or follow up needed for particular students and where we are at in curriculum areas. Although we still see each other often, the ability to quickly add a note to our communications folder no matter whether we are in the classroom, the office or at home has streamlined our communication. And it also means we have a record of it for future follow up or perusal.
Student files – we have created a notebook for each student and are filing all anecdotal evidence, test results, scanned rubrics, parent communication and work samples in them. Regardless of which of us has completed a specific task with the students, we are both able to see how he/she has understood and progressed with it. This will be an excellent, detailed resource for report writing and we have already started to write some summary statements about student progress in particular curriculum areas.
Work program – it is stored in an Evernote notebook and is truly a working document. Both of us can update and amend as we go so it reflects not only what we have planned but what we have actually achieved – often two very different things!
Links – I store any links that I plan to use with our students in the appropriate folder in Evernote so that I can access them quickly at school. So easy!
I am sure that this is just the tip of the iceberg for the potential use of Evernote in our professional lives but what we have achieved so far has been great. I feel like Evernote helps us to work smarter, not harder – and that must be a good thing! Miss Spink on Tech is a fantastic resource for all things Evernote related for teachers and I am very grateful to her for her assistance and inspiration in getting myself organised … check it out!
What suggestions do you have for the use of Evernote in your teaching life?