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?
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!
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 …
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!
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.
One of the challenges in the subject Leading Educational Change is to come up with our own framework for the change process. We have read, reflected on and responded to many models of change presented to us and in the light of this, have been asked to come up with our own. So here is my attempt. I have tried to capture a couple of key things in this graphic (happy to have your feedback on whether I have been successful!); the importance of a shared vision for the change and the non-linear nature of change that requires lots of revisiting, reviewing, reflecting and adjusting.
I used www.gliffy.com to create this visual and found it very user friendly and easy to navigate.
Does this visual enhance your understanding of the change process? Would you change or refine it in any way?
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.
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??