A Learner's Journey

September 6, 2016
by mj0401mary
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The Power of Inquiry

I have been really enjoying reading Kath Murdoch’s latest book, ‘The Power of Inquiry’. It is both affirming and challenging my thinking about Inquiry in its many guises. I have created this visual as a prompt for me to think about the different types and origins of great Inquiry learning for students (and ourselves!) 

Do you have a balance of different types of Inquiry in your classroom?

August 29, 2016
by mj0401mary
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Reflections … Religious Education Conference 2016

Reflections

Marc R. via Compfight

An invitation to ‘wholeheartedness’ – this is the phrase that captured my imagination and gave me a lens with which to reflect from the opening keynote address of Dr Maureen O’Connell at the RE Conference, ‘Be Witnesses of God’s Mercy’. This idea of whole heartedness, of opening ourselves and our being in a deeply authentic way, of exposing and questioning our own vulnerabilities stayed with me throughout the conference as I listened to workshops and had conversations with participants.

During her keynote address, Maureen invited us into an exploration of mercy from three perspectives; mercy as being, mercy as knowing and mercy as transforming.  She spoke of mercy as a way of being that orients us to our own freedom, to uncovering the assumptions, worldviews and philosophies that determine how we respond and react to others and perhaps rethink some of these responses. This requires self knowledge, awareness and reflection as an intentional disposition in our lives. It also means we open ourselves up, exposing our vulnerabilities in order to deeply engage with the other and extend mercy to both self and other – “answering yes to God’s what if’s” as expressed by Emilie Townes.

Mercy as a way of knowing centres around a logic of the heart, rather than a logic driven by power, control or greed. This can easily disorient us as we often find ourselves operating out of places other than our hearts. Working from the logic of the heart has significant implications for us as educators in our relationships and interactions with our students, staff and families. Again, it means placing ourselves in a position of vulnerability where our own positions and thinking are challenged, enlightened, altered or even disrupted.

Mercy as a way of transformation reorients us towards healing and wholeheartedness. This means that we have to acknowledge our own role in the suffering and hurt of others, either directly or indirectly and actively seeking to change this in some positive way. Reaching out to others in mercy is a way of transforming both ourselves and others. It asks us to detach ourselves from what we idolise, from the way we interpret the world and make space for other ways of seeing and being in the world – a hermeneutical approach.

Maureen completed her keynote referring to Parker Palmer, an American author, educator and activist,  speaking of the courage it takes to be in this world deeply steeped in the practice of mercy: “ The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that the teacher and student and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning and living require.” (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach) It is as simple and complex as that!

August 25, 2016
by mj0401mary
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Encountering Agile Leadership

What a privilege to attend the National Catholic Education Conference in Perth this term. It was a unique opportunity to connect with Catholic Educators from all over Australia and collectively explore what it means to have ‘Faith to Lead, and Lead to Faith.’ There was a great diversity of Keynote speakers, each of whom were able to illuminate aspects of leadership that are core to our work in Catholic Education. Simon Breakspear’s work around ‘Agile Leadership’ struck a particular chord with me. You can read more about Simon’s work here. For me, as a privileged partner in many Leadership Team conversations within our schools in the Eastern Region, Simon’s driving question seemed to be a purposeful and direct way of considering our impact on student learning:

‘What is your number one priority for improving student learning now?’

This struck me as a powerful question that could drive targeted school improvement in a manageable way, narrowing the focus of the team to one key priority that each team member could contribute to and support. The idea of a one page, short term strategic plan really appealed to me as a practical way of prioritising action and making real and discernible change within schools over a relatively short time frame. Harnessing the collective expertise of a Leadership Team to work together on one key priority seems like an empowering and strategic way to go – imagine the possibilities! Simon spoke of having a ‘relentless improvement focus’ and had some key questions to support the Leadership Team in considering their key priority:

What are we trying to do?

How are we trying to do it?

How will we know if we are making progress?

What will we do if we are not making progress?

How can I help?

This last question is particularly powerful as it alerts each member of the team to the collective nature of the shared endeavour for improvement. Simon also referred to focusing not on the ‘stuff’ of change but its impact – how is the change we are trying to enact apparent within our learning community?

I am keen to try this new approach to Leadership conversations and look forward to participating in an ‘agile’, dynamic and responsive approach to ‘relentless improvement’. Stay tuned …

November 24, 2015
by mj0401mary
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Innovation – a way forward

One of the big buzz words we currently hear often is ‘innovation’. I recently had the privilege of attending the 2015 ACEL conference and was able to listen to Professor Ian Williamson describe his interpretation of this word and some of the conditions that might be needed to enable it. He described innovation in two distinct but connected ways:

The creation of new ideas

The harnessing of these new ideas to create valuable processes, products and services

One of the interesting things Ian pointed out was that innovation is often a social and community pursuit – that it is in the combining of complementary skillsets, dispositions and interests that truly new ideas can be created. I know I have experienced this in my own work – the old adage of ‘two heads are better than one’ comes to mind and so often is true. 

The harnessing of these new ideas can be the most challenging part of innovation – seeing an idea through to the enactment phase. Sometimes the ‘ideas’ people are not the best people to harness and enact – there are different skills, knowledge and dispositions needed for this. This can be a risky enterprise, and having the support of leadership throughout this phase is critical. It is a time of trial, reflection, adjustment, change, openness, wondering and questioning. Innovation can require re- imagining and redesigning and takes time. 

So how do we support and enable innovation in our schools and classrooms? Collaboration is key and sharing a vision, a dream or a ‘reimagining’ of the way things could be would seem like an important first step. It may be a team, or just one teacher with the backing of a supportive principal but either way, creating new processes, products and services to improve student learning is always a worthy pursuit. 

I will leave you with this Ted talk I stumbled over today. Richard Culatta talks about some of his reimaginings of a system that enables personalised learning for all students. I love his description of a ‘Learning Positioning System’ that enables point of need for the student to be discerned and acted upon with ease. 

November 18, 2015
by mj0401mary
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Feel the power!

Having really invested personally in the Google suite of applications such as Drive and  Google+, I can honestly say that it has transformed the way I work and collaborate. How you might ask? Here is a snapshot of some of the benefits I have found in terms of workflow …

  • I can access my work anytime, anyplace on any device. No more emailing files to myself, or carrying around USB’s with presentations on them. I can sign in (I usually go incognito when visiting schools) and access whatever I need wherever I am.
  • Collaboration opportunities abound and are easily managed – I can seek or receive feedback on documents via the comments function, I can work with my team on a Slide Presentation in real time, I can share files with colleagues quickly and efficiently, I can keep track of changes made to documents and even revert to previous versions if I wish to.
  • Whilst I still do love to file my work in folders within Drive, locating that elusive document is never a hassle – I simply search for one of the key words in it and  there is it.
  • Collecting and collating data, feedback or information through the use of Google Forms is simple, quick and efficient. I can view the data collected in a variety of ways and share it with my colleagues too. I have used this tool to gain feedback on our team’s work in schools which is a great source of learning and improvement for us as a team.
  • Google+ has been a great way to share content, interesting reads, agendas etc and I have learnt lots from engaging with a variety of communities all centered around education. It is simple and quick to engage with colleagues from all over Melbourne through responding to a post with a comment, question or simply a +1

18-11-2015 3-42-48 PM

How has Google Drive enhanced or impacted the way you work?

April 17, 2015
by mj0401mary
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Word for the term … curiosity

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My goal for term 2 in my work as a school advisor is to be curious about what I see, hear and read! To refrain from judgement and instead to ponder and wonder –

why might that be so? what thinking might sit behind this? how might we move forward from here? what might my role be here? why do I think that way? how might I find out more?

My experience as a teacher has taught me that people, communities and teams are complex and there are many reasons for why things are the way they are. There is much to be learnt by stepping off the judgement pedal and taking the time to pause and wonder, think and reflect instead. Will keep you posted on what this process reveals for me …

 

photo credit: What’s the point? via photopin (license)

November 19, 2014
by 34mk2012
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Student voice: What is it? Why do we want it? How do we find it?

Student voice has become a buzzword in education at present and at the REL Networks, it has certainly been spoken about multiple times. What do we mean by student voice? Is it about engagement and making choices about learning? Is it about learning design that the student is a key player in? Is it about students working towards school improvement? Perhaps it is all of these things is some ways.

I stumbled across this video clip which apart from being humourous, also made me think about the relationships between teachers/leaders and students and how they have changed (or not!) over the years. 

This really gave me pause to think. My first reaction is ‘of course I have never operated like that within the school context’, but after further reflection, the stance of the school leader is one I may have taken on occasions. I feel I have grown much as a teacher since returning 5 years ago and made some inroads on enabling student voice within my classroom but I am not sure how effectively we did this as a school and leadership team. How is student voice authentically placed in school decision making? Where is student voice authentically placed within the school review process?

So for some research …

I came across two websites  I feel are well worth a look in expanding  understandings of student voice. The first is a document from the Department of Education. It is lengthy but worth a read to put the concept of student voice in context and the questions on page 19 provide a great source of reflection on student voice within the school and classroom. The other site  is titled ‘Soundout’, an American based site that has a number of interesting links about student voice. The one that I found challenging and valuable was the one title Cycle of Student Voice . This describes five aspects of supporting student voice in learning: listen, validate, authorise, reflect and act.

The challenge for our REL Network now is to ensure greater and more authentic student voice in our planning and learning design and to also seek student voice on how this impacts learning. Just a small challenge for next year!

 

 

November 19, 2014
by 34mk2012
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A New Direction …

It has been 10 weeks now in my new role as School Advisor with the Catholic Education Office Melbourne. I am loving my new job and learning everyday from colleagues within the office and out in schools as I visit and work with them. Some of my learnings so far …

  • every school is different, and yet so similar! There are many of the same joys and struggles shared by the schools I have visited, each with its own particularity and flavour.
  • schools really are focused on meeting the needs of their students. This happens in many different ways and some schools seem to do this more easily than others, but everyone has that strong desire to be student-centred.
  • there are many, many wonderful teachers in schools doing amazing things with their students. Opportunities to both glimpse and share this is a source of insight and learning.
  • the Leadership Team play such a key role within a school and set the tone for collegiality and collaboration.

The overwhelming thing I feel is there is so much to learn! What a fantastic opportunity I have been given to work with a diversity of schools to improve student learning whilst at the same time, deepening my own understanding of leadership, student voice, the use of data to drive learning and learning design.

After this, I give up.  Probably.
Photo Credit: Curtis Alan Jackson via Compfight

July 4, 2014
by 34mk2012
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What my students think…

Recently, whilst exploring the flexibility and usefulness of Google Forms, I used one to seek feedback on my teaching and our classroom from my students. What a great, easy way of getting feedback that was easy for the students and me! What did I learn from this …

What works well:

My students like the use of Whole Brain Teaching to engage them in their learning, especially the ‘teach’ instruction, which apparently allows them the opportunity to ensure they know what we are focusing on, explaining this to others to confirm they are on the right track.

My students enjoy the enthusiasm I bring to my role in the classroom, from my gestures to my voice! Good to know that my antics are valued!

My students perceive that I love teaching. This feels like such high praise and I am delighted that the love I have for my job is evident in the way that I engage in my classroom. They also commented that I care about their learning – this was wonderful to read because it is SO true!

My students experience learning as dynamic and fun. ‘Fun’ came up repeatedly and I am pleased that the effort and creativity I put into my teaching helps my students to enjoy their learning.

Even better if:

I had time to spend one on one with each student every day. This would be fantastic and is a mighty challenge. I hope that I do engage with each student individually each day although what I think they are after is something more lengthy. This is valuable feedback and something I can try and be more aware of.

Several students commented on wanting more group work. I find this a little surprising as we do work in teams a lot but we could certainly do it even more. There was an even split amongst the students of wanting to choose their own groups and  having groups chosen for them which was interesting.

My favourite; “It would be even better if Mary went to less meetings, but I don’t suppose there is much you can do about that.” Out of the mouths of babes … 

The best thing about being in 5/6 MK:

Overwhelmingly, there were two key themes here. The students are really happy with their teachers and I believe Krystyna and I are a very balanced and effective team. The students also acknowledged the respect, trust and care that exists within our classroom. Many students commented on feeling accepted in the room and always being able to get help when needed. They commented on the non-judgmental tone of the classroom and on how well everyone got along. As a teacher, reading this, my heart swelled! It is this exact atmosphere that allows students to take risks with their learning and feel supported as they do.

This exercise in seeking feedback has been immensely valuable to me as a teacher. Certainly it has been affirming of the way in which I try to operate as a co-learner within our classroom and use energy and creativity to engage the students. But it has also challenged me to try and squeeze out some extra moments of one on one time for every student, not just the ones who so overtly need it. Not to mention the meetings …

What kind of feedback have you sought from your students?

 

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