Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Dispatch From Down Under -- "Let's give it a red hot go"

That line was uttered to me today by principal Charles Branciforte during my visit to Keilor Views Primary School. It sums up his team's willingness to try out new educational ideas in small teacher groups via a research-based inquiry cycle. Many times the ideas work, and 6 to 12 months later, they are scaled up to eventually encompass the entire school if applicable. Sometimes, the ideas do not produce the desired impact on student learning, and are shelved. But it is that spirit and passion to change practice for the best interests of students that drives this innovative school.

The school utilizes the Visible Learning work of Professor John Hattie in all classrooms; indeed, Keilor is featured as a case study in Visible Learning into Action:International Case Studies of Impact.Teachers are committed to its implementation because they have seen the results. How do they know? Because Assistant Principal Rita Szrenko supports teachers in mining their data through a regular formative assessment process that includes regular conferring with students about their learning and student goal-setting.

Instructional coaches also support individual teachers to confirm the reliability of the data.

I accompanied Charles and Rita on one of their typical learning walks through the school.From classroom to classroom, the ages of students varied, but the non-negotiables did not: clear learning targets, success criteria, and at least 1,000 books available in each room:

By the way, that learning target and success criteria were in a classroom of 4-5 year olds.

Like any meaningful improvement, the success of Keilor students did not happen overnight. Indeed, it has taken commitment to a multiple year journey and an unending drive to continually improve. Along the way, some staff have opted out and either retired or moved to other schools. Charles and Rita have set very high expectations for teachers, and in turn, for students. Rita has been instrumental in supporting teacher teams in their collaborative planning of lessons, in a template that reminded me of our district's consensus mapping. Charles has been incredibly creative in finding funds to support teacher learning and collaborative time. Both are committed to creating a professional culture and atmosphere in which great teaching and learning occurs.

It's always a joy to enter a classroom of kids engaged in learning. What I saw today blew me away. Kids will rise or fall to meet expectations, and in this school, kids are soaring! And not just some kids, but all kids.

As I close this out, I need to thank not only Charles and Rita for their time, but the staff of Corwin Australia, especially Bishri Basheer and Brad Rosairo, for making this visit possible.

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How might we leverage this learning?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dispatch from Down Under - Students Leading the Way

In the midst of a two-week trip to Melbourne, I had the great fortune to visit two state schools, both Years 9-12. My first visit was to Mt. Waverley Secondary College, a large co-ed school in a middle class suburb. The following day, I spent time at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School, somewhat smaller, and just a short tram ride from the Central Business District. Unlike Mt. Waverley, Mac.Rob is a magnet school with an application process. 

I went to the schools through the generous invitation of Roger Holdsworth, a man of many talents and an educator who truly believes in the democratic agency of all students.I met Roger online in a group dedicated to student voice while researching my dissertation. Sight unseen, he set up the school visits and made the rounds with me. My conversations with him were thought-provoking and have helped me grow my thinking.

Both of the schools I visited participate with the Victorian Student Representative Council -- "VicSRC" -- a state-funded body representing students. Through support from that agency, both schools engage in their own versions of Teach the Teacher, where students lead professional learning for educators in an atmosphere of open, honest, and nonjudgmental communication. I had the privilege to meet with students from both schools who are working with teachers to improve the learning in their schools.

Like many in education, the students are anxious for change. They recognize that their time at the school is limited, and they desire systems for sustainable change. They recognize the external and internal pressures on teachers stemming from economics and accountability, and they are willing to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them to make positive change.They recognize that not every educator is welcoming student voice with open ears, and they continue to believe in what they are doing. They recognize that in some ways their input is still at the tokenism level, and they persist in advocating for equality.

At Mt. Waverley, the Teach the Teacher program is currently centered around a shared belief among teachers and students that strong relationships are important to creating a healthy learning environment.Students led learning for staff and students around the perception data gathered in the school and worked together to draft a survey for teachers to use to gain feedback from students in individual classrooms.The teachers used the feedback to improve relationships, and thereby improve learning. To read more in-depth on this project, click here and forward to page 8. Another project the students are interested in is re-purposing the first 15-20 minutes of school so that teachers and students become more of a community of learners.

At Mac.Rob, the students and staff are engaged in a four-year strategic plan that includes their version of Teach the Teacher, known as Creating Conversations. Students take part in four different areas of the school: curriculum, building and logistics, e-learning, and wellbeing. On the day I was there, the students were holding an open forum on the Year 10 English curriculum, which had been reconfigured within the last few years. The students are seeking to understand the impact the curriculum change has had on students as they move up into Years 11 and 12, and on the teachers who are implementing the new curriculum. Like many schools in the U.S., the Mac.Rob students sometimes have a day off while their teachers engage in professional learning. The students also have an interest in measuring the impact that professional learning has on classroom learning.

What might we achieve in our schools if we not only engage student voice, but welcome students as leaders of learning? We talk to students all the time; what might happen if we talk with them? More importantly, what is possible if we listen as well? Why not learn from those most impacted by policies and decisions? Why not let them lead the way?

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What might this look like in your school? What would it take for students to lead the learning?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

"The innovative is in the process, the innovative is in the procedure, in the structure, rather than just doing one-hit wonders."

Take two minutes and watch this clip from Daily Fuel, and listen to these words and others from Cary Tilds, Chief Innovation Officer for GroupM. Her advice is that we must change the way we work if we want to consistently innovate and change the game. 

What might be one change teachers could make in the process or procedure of their incredibly demanding work that would open the door to innovation? I offer the idea of an inquiry cycle. Here is one possibility from the Canadian Education Association:

Any internet search will reveal a lot of different models, and there is no one right way. The important piece is that teachers collaboratively engage in the process, in successive cycles throughout the school year, to try out new practices and collectively assess student learning.

Here is another example, from the Coalition of Essential Schools:

You can read Kathleen Cushman's article here for a deeper explanation of how the cycle was used in a variety of contexts. Highlights include the importance of the power of the collaborative team, the importance of action, and how the cycles resulted in system changes that created the conditions for innovation.

Join the conversation....
How are you and your team currently using your collaborative time? If you are not currently using an inquiry cycle to drive your collaborative time and your practice, how might switching the way you work to such a model make a difference? If you are engaged in a cycle of inquiry, please share your experience.

As always, thanks for reading, thinking, and posting comments.