… An Early Education

As I await the birth of my first born, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the kind of education I would like him to have. If I had my way, I’d create my own school and get all the wonderful teachers I’ve come to know and respect through my own teaching career and on twitter, to teach him. Given that his schooling us still some way off, I have been giving more thought to his early education. I’ve always believed that parents have a primary role to play in the education of their child. It’s a responsibility that my husband and I are really looking forward to fulfilling.

I’m in a great position where I don’t have to return to work this year, so I am going to enjoy the time with my son. I’ve been thinking about all of the experiences I’d love to share with him, as well as my hopes for him. Something that we both sincerely hope he enjoys is a love of reading. My husband and I both love to read, so if there is some predisposed gene attributed to reading, then he will have a great chance at developing it! In any case, I have just recently discovered the local libraries in my area. I’m really lucky that we live near so many libraries. I’ve generally kept going to the library that I lived near, a couple of years ago as it’s only a ten minute drive from home, but there are at least four libraries closer to my house and I’m beginning to branch out and discover what they have to offer. I was really pleased to learn that there are story time and rhyme sessions for babies and separate activities for toddlers. I’m so impressed that these are offered at the local libraries and can’t wait to take my son along to these events! I’ve already started buying picture books for his book collection and can’t wait for my husband and I to begin reading to him.

I’ve had some time to think about reading, literature and children and was really pleased to read a post on that wonderful site,
Brain Pickings. Brain Pickings
Essentially, the post is a series of letters, written by some of the most esteemed cultural icons of the past, to the children of Troy, Michigan, regarding the opening of their public library. Here is a link to the post: Letters To The Children Of Troy

Each writer details the wonderful, imaginative and transformative experience that reading literature entails! It left me feeling energised and feeling so lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful public libraries!

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Has Naplan lost its way?

My niece starts year 3 this year. She is a bright, happy and intelligent young girl who absolutely loves going to school and loves to learn. She is inquisitive and has a curious mind. She asks a lot of questions, as 7 year old children do. It helps them make sense of the world. You could imagine my surprise when after her first day of school, she asked me whether the high school girls could learn art and music before the Naplan tests? I must admit I was really surprised by the question. She has never asked me about a test before! I answered by telling her about how students study a range of subjects. She paused and then said to me, well we can’t because we have to learn for Naplan tests. My niece hadn’t really concerned herself about Naplan before. She had heard about it, but I had reassured her that she wouldn’t have to worry about it. It was a test she did on one day of the year. She was to do her best, but not let it worry her. Never could I conceive a primary school teacher telling students that they wouldn’t be studying art and music until after the Naplan tests. Has someone told this teacher that Naplan is in May? It concerns me that the message that students and parents come away with, is that the stakes riding on the outcomes of the Naplan tests for schools are high. The hidden message is that students must perform really well, to ensure that the school ranks well and is above average in each of the key areas. After all, the better the results the more interest in the school from prospective parents. 

Sadly this is not an isolated incident. I remember a couple of years ago, working with a colleague who had two children in primary school. One in year three and one in year five. Both of her children were drilled in spelling and persuasive text types for days on end, before the tests. Her youngest daughter was so sick of it, she said she wasn’t going to do the test, because she now hated learning and hated school. She was a bright and inquisitive girl who had just become so sick of the pressure placed upon her. Homework, every night for about three weeks was spelling words and definitions. The teacher bribed the students with promises of really fun and exciting learning opportunities after Naplan. I’ve been approached by so many friends who have primary school aged children who want me to tutor their children before the Naplan tests. 

When did Naplan lose its way? I would argue that when MySchools was used to reveal this data and no other data, that it’s when schools became focussed on the test. Initially it was supposed to be diagnostic, to allow parents, teachers and students understand where strengths and weaknesses existed in Numeracy and Literacy. The idea that they would be tested in four school years – 3, 5, 7 and 9, would provide richer data and reveal areas of growth. There is nothing wrong with testing students for knowledge and skill development. The problem with this test is that while it’s supposed to be diagnostic, it’s being used as a marketing tool among schools, to attract enrolments. Publishing the results within this context is one of the biggest mistakes ever made. I know of high schools who have also adopted a similar model where they focus specifically on teaching to the test. The test can no longer be seen as diagnostic, particularly when the cramming that takes place before the tests is out of context. 

My sister has made an appointment to see the teacher about the comments. I have armed her with information about Naplan and the diagnostic nature of the test so she knows the questions to ask of the teacher. 

Aside from the ethical issues, I think it’s really sad that children so young are already filled with the idea that art and music aren’t as important as a test that isn’t directly related to what they are doing in the classroom at the time the test is taken. The focus and emphasis placed on external tests like Naplan misplaces the value of assessment. Assessment can be meaningful. It can be diagnostic and can provide parents, students and teachers with rich knowledge of a child’s progress, strengths and weaknesses. Good assessment should challenge students and should not rely on rote learning. In some ways, the minor changes to Naplan – essentially not telling schools whether the writing task will be persuasive or a narrative text, in some ways prevents learning a text type for the test. 

I’ve never been a fan of teaching to the test. It’s an almost guaranteed way to discourage thinking, questioning and deep learning in the classroom. It is a guaranteed way to encouraged dependence and laziness. Why think about the answer if you know the teacher will just tell you? Why bother thinking because the teacher will give the right answer.  Rest assured that literacy and numeracy skills are embedded in the activities completed in my classroom. They are taught within the context of each unit of work. They are also assessed accordingly. A teacher worth their salt should be able to speak confidently and freely about how a student is progressing in their class. If the work completed in class does not provide a picture of a student’s performance in that subject, then there are issues for concern. Naplan does not replace good assessment in the classroom. Naplan, when completed as it is intended, should complement the work completed in the classroom and suggest possible areas for improvement. So much time and money has been invested in creating a great website to access the Naplan data, complete with growth charts, answers and suggested activities to support teachers in helping their students develop and improve skills and knowledge. This data is only as accurate as the way that students go into the test. Of course students have the right to know the structure of the test. I think they should be given experience of the kind of questions they can be asked, so they are prepared for the way in which the questions are worded. Where I draw the line is withdrawing some elements of the curriculum so students can solely focus on practising past questions and then not following up after the test. Another problem with the diagnostic test is that the results come far too late in the year, to really effect any change. I would like to see the results shared earlier, so opportunities to address areas of weakness, highlighted in the testing can be planned and implemented. 

My niece did come home from school today, excited that she will be learning Italian this year. Apparently they will be having these lessons from the start of the year. No news yet on whether art and music classes will be a focus in term one. 

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Kung Hei Fat Choy

 

 

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! Today marks the start of the Chinese New Year, the year of the Horse! Hope the year brings you good health, happiness and prosperity! It’s wonderful how this time of year coincides with the start of the school year. Its a great time to set goals and think about what we would like to achieve, both professionally and personally. There are so many opportunities to be involved in coaching, mentoring and professional development. One of my goals for the year is to read more, blog more and participate more in my PLN. Even though I’m on leave, I still feel strongly connected to my role as a teacher and to my PLN. I’m really hoping there will be great opportunities to think, reflect and learn. I love the Opera House and I took this photograph last night. This iconic landmark hosts so many cultural and artistic events – great way to learn and to expand our hearts and minds.

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A new year brings a change in direction and some new goals…

In every role I’ve held in a school, I have always found the third year to be the best year. This is particularly true of my experience as a Head of Dept, where the third year really allowed me to effect some change and be proactive and creative. If I was at school this year, it would be my third year as Curriculum Coordinator and no doubt I would have been able to focus on being more proactive and creative in my role. I find that in leadership roles and starting a new school, it takes a good couple of years to get a real appreciation for the culture of the school and the needs of the community. It also allows for a real opportunity to reflect on your own experiences – as well as reflecting on strengths and weaknesses. I was really looking forward to my third year in this role. I had decided that my third year would be the year that I would become better at balancing administrative tasks with other aspects of my role. In some way, I was going to tame the administrative beast. 

In July of 2013, when I was thinking about 2014, I found out that I was pregnant and that was absolutely wonderful news! As semester two progressed, the reality that I would not be working started to settle. When my replacement was announced, I spent a lot of time thinking deeply about my role, the many facets of my role, the many people I work with and the many demands of the role. I spent a lot of time trying to put into words and into documents, the work that I do. I spent a lot of time preparing documents for 2014 and in conversations with my replacement, to help her develop a sense of what is required. I think the time spent really thinking about my role was one of the hardest and one of the best things I have done. It made me prioritise what I do, in a way that I hadn’t done so before. It made me really think about how best to communicate the complexities of my role without making it sound like a shopping list of tasks. 

One thing that I did that I was really proud of, was conceptualising aspects of my role as a series of projects. Setting dates and targets, so that things could be achieved. This made things less overwhelming a prospect for my replacement. It also enabled me to have a conversation with her about leadership and areas of focus for 2014, namely assessment. It took a great deal of time to do this, but I was really pleased with the outcome. I have spoken to her a couple of times and she has been positive about the start to the year. 

I don’t want to lose contact with my PLN this year, particularly when there are so many changes to curriculum. First and foremost there is the implementation of the Australian Curriculum and the changes to the Area of Study and texts for a range of modules for Stage 6 English. I have set some goals this year. For starters I want to engage more with the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) of which I am part of that network. I also want to spend some time really immersing in the creative aspects of programming and assessment – as an English teacher, I want to refresh my pedagogy. It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to really focus on my own professional development as an English teacher. It’s something that I miss terribly and just in the last few days I have found some wonderful resources online, particularly blog posts written by some talented and passionate educators. 

My other teaching area is Languages – Japanese and I have already started focusing on refreshing my skills in speaking, listening, reading and writing. It’s amazing how quickly it comes back to you, even if you aren’t using the language on a daily basis. My other dream for this year is to learn Mandarin. Of course it’s going to take longer than a year, but I figured that I will have greater flexibility to listen to podcasts and study online. I have found a Mandarin tutor and can’t wait to meet with her, to learn. 

Most of all, I am really excited about becoming a parent and watching how my child will come to learn about the world. I love the fact that I will provide him with a really wonderful foundation to learn through play and exploration. 

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Taming the administrative beast

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” 
― Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss captures my sentiments of semester one, most effectively. Most days I have felt like the hamster on the wheel, constantly running. Nine week terms are great in term four, but are horrendous in term two. This term has really got me thinking about time. I know that the great Albert Einstein said that 

“time is an illusion”

                                                                                      and while it feels like that during the holidays, it certainly feels like a reality in my daily working life. I have found this term has challenged me to prioritise a whole range of tasks. My closest friends and colleagues would know that the aspects of my role that I love most, are working with people to build capacity and recognise potential. I also love curriculum design and programming great teaching units. The aspects that seem to take up most of my time are the administrative elements – which are vitally important to my role, but are incredibly time consuming. How to find the balance between the creative elements and the administrative elements has been successful in previous terms, but this term not so successful. I can’t quite pinpoint the reasons why, but I know that time seems to be an issue. I think an extra week would have been great, but I have no control over the term calendar. 

I have found some interesting links at the Fast Company website that look at ways of using time more effectively in the workplace. I’m going to give some of the strategies a go, to see if I can tame the administrative beast in term three and spend more time on what I love most… creativity in leadership. 

So in the next few weeks, I’m going to trial some of the strategies to improve efficiency in completing administrative tasks. If I can tame the beast, then I can get on with the business of creativity. I am going to trial different strategies that you can find here

I will review some strategies here in my blog, that I think might help educators manage the increasing number of administrative tasks that now form part of their role. 

If you have some great ideas, feel free to let me know and I can add them to an upcoming blogpost. 

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Famous Advice on Writing

I love this blog. If you are not a subscriber, you should be. The link is to a great reading list, about writing. I hope you enjoy it. If you haven’t ever visited this website, I have copy and pasted information about it. Subscribe. It is seriously one of the most inspiring and creative blogs worth adding to you reading list.

Below is the ‘about’ citation – taken from: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/about/

Brain Pickings is the brain child of Maria Popova, an interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large, who also writes for Wired UK andThe Atlantic, among others, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. She has gotten occasional help from a handful of guest contributors.

Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are.

Because creativity, after all, is a combinatorial force. It’s our ability to tap into the mental pool of resources — ideas, insights, knowledge, inspiration — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to culture, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these ideas and build new ideas — like LEGOs. The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our creations will become.

Brain Pickings — which remains ad-free and supported by readers — is your cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich your mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful. Please enjoy.”

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Developing a coaching culture in schools

Today is one of those days that I want to commit to memory. It was energising, refreshing and allowed for creative conversations about leadership and vision. Our executive team, under the guidance of Jan Robertson*, is engaging in a plan of establishing a culture of coaching in our school. Today three of our executive team attended a day with Jan Robertson and executive teams from other schools. To hear about their experiences, how far they have come along the journey, and to share our experience was a great opportunity. I was particularly interested to hear about how schools have altered the mentoring process, in order to bring out the best in their staff. I was really interested in how some schools gave their staff the opportunity to select their own mentors. The schools that attract the SSNP funding have really created some great alternate models to mentoring and to really engage the teachers in the change process. It’s about school improvement. Working in a system of Catholic schools is a fantastic opportunity to connect and network with other teachers. I gained so much from the experience and really look forward to the next session. 

Coaching culture sessions occur between two people. In the sessions you can talk about areas you want to improve, challenges or anything in your role. It’s like a process of deep reflection. The listener cannot offer advice or interrupt. They really ask you questions to deepen your reflection. It takes a bit of practice but it is so worth it. 

Coaching culture –  an overview:

  • Creating opportunities to build leadership capacity
  • Reflect on critical practice
  • It’s about creating energy and passion that we have and that we see in others
  • Teachers see and learn from professional practice – they don’t make mistakes over and over. Ask for professional learning in key areas
  • It’s about being learners together 
  • It’s about building the culture so that things can grow
  • Culture building
  • Medium to grow seeds of professionalism
  • Culture of reflective practice 

Why culture building?
To improve quality of learning experiences for students and to achieve the desired learning outcomes for students
Bottom line… Moral purpose is to change our practice and learn to grow to meet the changing and complex  needs of our students.
 
I really resonated quite strongly with these ideas when Jan said  “(We) need to educate why we are leading the change. People need to see you as someone who loves to learn. Be the entrepreneur.” This is so very, very true. In schools, you have to model the change you want to see. Being the entrepreneur means that you could find resources or opportunities to make things happen. You could connect people with each other etc. It’s about being resourceful. 
 
Given that for me, term two has very much been about the minutae of administration in my role, today was such a great opportunity to do what I love doing most – thinking about the big picture. Don’t get me wrong – I love my role and all that it entails, but today was a great, energising experience. I also loved the fact I could spend the day with two awesome colleagues, colleagues that I got to know so much better today. 
 
*Jan Robertson is a professional training and coaching professional. She is a senior researcher at the University of Waikato, NZ. She is also an adjunct professor at Griffith University. I am currently reading one of her books on coaching cultures and look forward to learning more about this area. 
 
My initial reflections about being in the coaching role (as active listener) is that I wanted to offer solutions or engage in problem solving. I can only assume that this comes from my role, which is to solve problems. I also don’t like seeing people struggle so I sometimes want to solve problems and provide solutions. Learning about being an active listener within this framework has taught me that getting to the answer in the quickest way, may not necessarily be the best way. It has been a great learning curve so far and I look forward to learning more and reflecting further in the journey.
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