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!
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.
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
How has Google Drive enhanced or impacted the way you work?
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?
Uni is well underway for the Semester and the learning has been relevant and engaging thus far. The subjects for this semester are Leading Educational Change and Perspectives in Leadership and both are very interconnected, really optimizing the learning for me. We have been considering what leading for change looks like and how as leaders, we can best enable change that is embedded and sustained. This clip by Pat Zigami was illuminating in considering the typical concerns that people have regarding change.
She summarises the key concerns as;
INFORMATION – Tell me about this change? Why? What do we know about this?
PERSONAL – What’s in it for me? How will this impact me? Can I succeed in this?
IMPLEMENTATION – How will this really work? What happens if I need help?
IMPACT – Will this change make any difference?
COLLABORATION – How do we get everyone involved?
REFINEMENT – How will we know we have succeeded? How will we evaluate this change?
It is very easy to view those who struggle with the notion of change simply as ‘blockers’ and ‘resistors’ rather than digging a little deeper to discern what the struggles are actually about. Pat states that concerns are usually questions and if we can anticipate them and respond to them rather than dismissing them, we are more likely to be successful with our change initiative.
This is a fresh perspective on working with staff in seeking change – less judgement and clear and direct communication may be a better way of involving all staff in the process of change.
What factors have enhanced your experience of change in schools?
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.
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!