A Learner's Journey

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. 

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?

 

May 5, 2013
by 34mk2012
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The Evidence Inquiry Cycle

The Evidence Inquiry Cycle guiding our work

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??

 

March 15, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Honk if you love life!

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:

 

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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?

March 15, 2013
by 34mk2012
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How Evernote Works For Me

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?

February 21, 2013
by 34mk2012
2 Comments

The Power of Collegial Discussion

As part of the planning team for the RE Eastern Network, we spent quite some time last week talking about the place of dialogue in Religious Education. Our first discussion was about what constituted dialogue. We talked about what dialogue IS and what it IS NOT. This is what we came up with:

Dialogue IS: participatory, open, acknowledges difference, respectful, purposeful, seeks understanding and multiple perspectives

Dialogue IS NOT: prescriptive, closed, dominated by one person, casual, incidental conversation

We then participated in a ‘Guiding a Dialogue’ protocol where we considered some possibilities dialogue enables for the participants. There are a variety of ways to contribute to dialogue including:

  • playing with ideas – possibility thinking
  • affirming and building on others’ ideas
  • following the ideas as far as you go – giving in to the ebb and flow of different directions
  • making links with others’ ideas
  • considering multiple perspectives or various viewpoints
  • offering questions and paraphrasing as well as your own thinking

The protocol enabled us to practise our dialogical skills and challenged them also. 

At Holy Spirit Community School, we have worked hard to embed collegial dialogue as an integral part of the planning process in Religious Education. All staff are encouraged to participate in this phase of the planning, not just classroom teachers. This brings diversity and richness to the discussion. We have found that staff enjoy grappling with the ‘big concepts’ central to our RE units at an adult level. The dialogue is often loud, enthusiastic and hard to wind up! Staff value the opportunity to sort out their own thinking and ask their own questions about the key concepts we are going to be working with. This stage of the planning also helps us to resist the urge to jump in with great activities and focus on developing deep understandings ourselves before we try and do that with our students. 

Some of our staff have reflected on the value of collegial discussion in our RE planning. Here are their thoughts:

How is dialogue used in your school to improve student outcomes?

February 17, 2013
by 34mk2012
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Learning to Storify

Another #etmooc task under my belt … my first storify. I decided to storify some of the tweets from the past week that demonstrate my PLN at work via twitter. I get so much from interacting with others on twitter – ideas, educational conversation and banter, feedback, affirmation and challenge, professional reading and even new shopping sites! (Every teacher needs a break!!) Here is a taste of my week on twitter …

 

 

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