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!
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!
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?
At Holy Spirit Community School we are fortunate enough to begin every school day with meditation. This has been a whole school commitment for the past five years and I imagine most staff and students could now not imagine starting the day without it. There is many a morning where the sound of the soothing music that brings calm and quiet with it is like a balm, soothing, healing and relaxing. We all know how hectic that first part of the school day can be, greeting students, answering parent queries, helping to find the lost jumper, sorting out notices, before school duty – the list is endless. But once that 8.55am bell goes, the school is transformed and the whole tone is changed.
Working in a Catholic school brings a particular context to our meditation, that of Christian meditation. But inherent in this, is the notion of connection to our deepest selves. This connection can be nurtured and nourished regardless of a school’s faith tradition and can only benefit students, staff and the wider community. In the world as we experience it, there are many pressures, ideals and voices competing for our attention and taking regular time to stop, be still and listen to our inner selves can be an opportunity to make our meaning.
At Holy Spirit, daily meditation begins with an announcement over the PA and some words of wisdom, reminding everyone what we are about to do and some strategies that may be helpful (as I am the speaker of the words, I am hoping they are words of wisdom!) We then listen to meditative music for approximately 2 minutes. This time is invaluable for settling the students, moving on any straggling parents (or inviting them to stay) and creating the quiet and stillness. The music is generally instrumental and comes from a wide variety of different cultures. Sometimes it may link to a particular season/time of the year eg: indigenous music for NAIDOC week, Christmas music during Advent etc. Then comes the true meditation – the silence. It is recommended that students remain silent for 1 minute for each year of their age but in reality, most classes are probably silent for between 2-4 minutes. The silence is ended by the ringing of the chimes and daily prayer commences.
The practise of mediation is well embedded in our school and most students and staff are very comfortable with the process. However, this year, we are going to visit some elements of meditation, particularly the use of a mantra as a way to calm the thoughts and images that pop into our minds as we meditate.
There are some excellent resources available on the web for people wishing to know more.
Christian Meditation for Children and Contemplative Life have great resources and information. I have prepared a PPT for our staff to revisit the important elements of our whole school meditation program (see below) and found the book A Child’s Way: How to teach and practice Christian meditation with children written by Jeannie Battagin very useful.
Do you see a place for meditation in your school or classroom? How might it work? What might the benefits be?
Twitter is a quick and easy way to share ideas, resources, successes and learning, and a great way to support each other in our role as educators. We can create connections with other REL’s and create a vibrant network in between meetings. Twitter is an easy way to stay in touch with one another, send a quick message of support, send out a request for help, celebrate a great learning experience or share a great new resource.
Sign up for a twitter account at www.twitter.com. Create a profile briefly giving people an idea about who you are and what you do so that potential followers can easily see why they should follow you! It is a great idea to add a photo – others are much more likely to follow a person than an egg! A photo also enables others to recognise you when you meet face to face. Download a twitter app for your mobile device so you can easily tweet when you are at PD, meetings or out and about. Start by following the REL’s listed below and see who they are following to get you started. Follow anyone whose profile matches your interests, skills or specialities. Keep your tweeting professional. Most of us are not that interested in where you are having coffee but we are very interested in a great new Web 2.0 tool you’ve used successfully.
Use #ERORE at the end of your tweet to alert your network to your message. You can search for this hashtag and quickly see anything that has been tweeted by the network. Save the search so it is easy to find.
Have a look at some of these links if you are keen to find out more …
At the planning day for our next zone meeting in Term 4, we were asked to reflect on our learning over the past two years. Although I have only joined the planning team this year, I have been part of the network for almost three years so I reflected on the changes in my thinking, knowledge and understanding during that period. Returning to teaching after a 10 year break at home with our children, the learning curve was always going to be steep, but taking on the role of REL accentuated the angle! To reflect, we used the notion of ‘before’ and ‘now’… Before I believed I may have been working in isolation as the RE Leader. Always well supported by the leadership team, I probably didn’t see how connected each of the spheres are, particularly in terms of planning professional learning opportunities for the staff. Now I know that we are all able to work closely together to support learning across all spheres. Being part of the AGQTP and CTLM projects has had huge benefits for our whole staff but also for our leaders. Having a shared understanding of good practice that crosses all curriculum areas has lead to more connectedness in our PLT’s and in our learning. Before, I gave lip service to the notion of being a life long learner but now I know with every fibre of my being that I am and that I LOVE learning. This has been sparked by attending Uni over the past two years studying for my Masters, and enjoying the many challenges this has created for me. I have genuinely enjoyed the conversation with colleagues at lectures, bouncing ideas off one another and challenging what we are presented with. I am also loving the opportunities for innovation and creativity that technology is affording me in my classroom and reveling in the enthusiasm of the students to express their learning in such a rich diversity of ways. My twitter journey over the last few months has also been enlightening and exciting. I have connected with some fantastic and truly passionate educators and shared professional learning anytime, anyplace. My eyes have been opened to many possibilities. Before I wondered how to make the shift to Inquiry learning in RE. It seemed like a huge task to lead staff towards planning our own, inquiry-based units rather than relying on Coming to Know, Worship and Love. With the enthusiastic support of the RESA from the Outer East Zone and participation in AGQTP, I began to see how the process might work and trailed it with the support of the AGQTP team at school. Now I wonder how we can keep the momentum up for planning this way? How do we avoid the trap of pulling out last year’s unit rather than using this cohort of students and their needs, questions and interests to drive the concept based unit?
What has enabled these shifts in understanding over the past three years? Attending Uni, some great Professional Learning, being a part of the REL Network and more recently the planning team, and the support of the Leadership Team at school. Most significant though is the support of my Principal, Peter. The trust he has placed in me and his willingness to discuss ideas and support me in implementing them has allowed me to take some risks, challenging myself and the staff in the way that we work, not only in Religious Education but across all spheres. Here’s to learning!