31 March 2015

Assessment and Communicating Learning

Ideally, I like to think that there can be an approach to assessment that is ingrained in the culture of learning and has an iterative approach. The Eutopia of this for me would involve timely conversations with parents rather than the traditional bi-annual event.  

There are 5 elements crucial to an effective assessment the measuring of understanding.  These include self-assessment and peer-assessment, feedback for learning, and clear communication of performance criteria and the curation/ eliciting of evidence. 

The key is to assess FOR learning as opposed to assessing OF learning. This involves a shift from a test of some kind which involves evaluation to a more focussed reflection of both process and understanding.   This kind of approach will certainly give us a clear approach of understanding but with effective, organic use, it will also inform us of the learning including forward planning and next steps as well as how we may measure future learning. 

I am keen to look further in authentic, challenge-based types of assessment. These require the learner to apply their learning and transfer knowledge and skills to a range of situations. The trick will be to ensure that the data gathered provides us with enough information to move forward. At the end of the day, the assessment will only be useful if it informs the learner, their family and the mentor with "What's Next?"

22 March 2015

Growth Mindset

It seems that many NZ educators are thinking about Growth Mindset at the moment... We value GM so much that we have outlined it as one of our 5 learning beliefs and also as a disposition. 

20 March 2015

So... What's the Point?

I have repeatedly revisited 'Whats the Point of School' By Guy Claxton over the past 2 years... This text has challenged me to really think about what good learners do.... He outlines in this book 8 dispositions. I think I've got my head around 7 of them... 

1 Powerful learners are curious. Children are born curious and just want to learn.  We are all familiar with the toddlers and their 'whys' questions... They wonder, they ask and often re-ask because they are not sure they believe the answer or that the answer has gone deep enough to satisfy their answer. 

2 Confident learners have courage. Last week, I asked a child at Shotover if he could do something for me... His reply was heart warming... He said... "I don't know how to that.... YET!" I was in awe of this response. It came without any discussion of growth mindset or goal setting. He just had the tenacity to let me know that he could and would learn it but didn't have it YET! 

3 Powerful learners are good at exploration and investigation How can I help the Years 1-4 that I am working with to find out and gather information? If I can help them to take the time to think carefully and not to jump to conclusions will they be better able to produce evidence? 

4 Powerful learning requires experimentation. Encourage children to have works in progress... They need to know that it is very much okay to make mistakes and to look for ways to shift their thinking/ results... to experiment, adjust and fail on many different levels.... 

5 Powerful learners have imagination. Children are as naturally imaginative as they are curious. We need to ensure that they can explore the possibilities. (I love how our school vision sits here) Children need to know that they can grow ideas by making links to past learning and make connections to what they have learnt in the past. 

6 Powerful learners know the virtue of sociability. Children are happy collaborating,sharing and challenging ideas. In an ideal learning environment children enjoy working in groups, solving problems, sharing their opinions and getting feedback. One of the things that I have become very aware of is adults' understanding/ and definition of collaboration. I challenge you to ask 3 adults for their definition of collaboration and see if they are consistent.... 

7 Powerful learners are reflective. Firstly, can our SPS define the difference between thinking and reflection? If they are reflecting, I would hope they can step back and identify their own progress. I'd hope that they self aware, able to talk about their learning and to continually 'grow their learning power'.

How can we grow the learning beliefs in our school and with our community? How can we ensure that the learning beliefs are just a part of what we do and that our community is on board?

17 March 2015

My One Sentence Job Description!

It's been a challenging and thought provoking exercise to sum up what I need to achieve each day in just one sentence. But after much thought and coaching from Ben... It seems that I am doing my job each day as long as I find ways to....

Build capacity, provoke thinking and maximise potential in leaders.

It's definitely portable.... I can remember each day to build capacity, provoke someone and to maximise potential.... Now, I just need someone to ask me... "Did you....? "

13 March 2015

What is Digital Leadership?

This week, I had to finally commit my job description to one sentence. Part of the process of getting there involved me thinking about my role as a digital leader...

Exhibit at Wanaka Puzzle World
We are now teaching in a time the digital technology is woven across everything we do. It cannot ever again be thought of as a stand alone subject within our curriculum but a part of all learning areas and administrative areas. I believe that leadership in schools needs to ensure that technology just 'is'. It needs to work, it needs to be efficient, it needs to increase work flow. Technology can certainly increase communication and if used well, it can definitely increase collaboration and connectedness.

Not many can dispute the fact that technology is an engaging tool to use with children but unfortunately, engagement can often be confused as learning. I do not believe that technology will necessarily increase children's level of achievement nor can we assume that because a child is engaged that they are actually making progress.
Source: Caroline Stuart, N4L
I realise that it is vital for me to develop some strategic leadership skills including a vision of our digital environment. I work with a highly competent team. They have all been immersed in a digital environment where they came from and bring a range of skills and a sense of purpose for devices to be integrated into what we do. So, I find myself in a very different role now compared to at my previous school.

I am aware that it is a blanket statement to say that teachers will struggle to change the way they do things, if they already have efficient ways of doing things. But part of my new role must ensure that they are immersed in a digital environment that supports work flow efficiency, is easily accessible/ ubiquitous and redefines the way we do things so that we have more time for the stuff that really matters.

We are extremely fortunate. Being a new school, we do not have to shift the culture and expectations of the community, the board nor the staff themselves. We just do it this way. As leaders though, this means that we need to be extremely clear about what we are trying to achieve. At the end of the day, it's about the learning not the technology at all. But, I need to ensure that the technology is an enabler.

11 March 2015

Where did I leave my teaching inquiry in 2014?

After a leadership meeting today, I am trying to reconnect with my past inquiries. Due to being out of the classroom and totally out of a school setting while we were in the "Start Up" phase of our new school, I seem to have lost a few of the fundamentals of my beliefs, principles and practices. I am trying to redefine them; just for myself. In 2009, I began exploring flexible learning spaces and self managing learners. This entailed integrating aspects of Nottingham's "Pit" and Claxton's "using the brain like a muscle and building learning power/fitness". Over time, my inquiries became iterative and built on each other. The main principles and practices running through included: 
  • learners' agency
  • children owning their assessments and monitoring their own progress backed up with evidence
  • co-planning with the children
  • flipped learning
  • transparency of planning for the children but also their parents
Trying to move forward with the leadership team and in an attempt to ensure I have clarity in my explanations, suggestions and vision, I pulled up my notes of my most recent teaching inquiry... 

Inquiry Focus: Make planning, learning paths and assessment visible, co-constructed and accessible to the learners (and their families). Will this approach -
- develop a learning environment that supports and nurtures “AKO” and “tuakana - teina” relationships.
- have an impact on outcome/ engagement for target learners?  
- support a student regulated classroom?
- impact on home/school relationships? Ubiquity? Job Share?
- be sustainable in a “Think Like a Nomad” year?

8 March 2015

One Sentence... Feeling Challenged!

So, I have been asked to write my own job description for this year..... in just one sentence. 

I don't think I have ever felt so challenged in my whole career. I am in a once in a lifetime position as we open a new school and my role is so foreign to anything I have done before. Not only am I on the Senior Leadership team and 'walking', we are also opening our school in stages. Therefore, this involves daily a shift in thinking and approaches. One minute, I am coaching in the here and now and the next I am thinking about new staff, reviewing current resources, the next layer of resources and trying to project what next year will look like once we open to Years 5-8 as well.

So how can, what seems like, such a variable and changing role from hour to hour let alone day to day, week to week, term to term and year to year begin to be summed up in ONE sentence? And, of course - WHY?

Andy Stanley puts it like this: "Memorable is portable."  

I am trying to ask myself, “what is my unique contribution. What is my core responsibility?” If I could only do what I could do, I need to identify it and lock it in to my daily planning.
Stanley suggests that our organisations will be at their best when we each are doing what we do best. That is a reference to the whole organisation and the people that make it up.

To drive this deeper, we each need to create a one sentence job description. This is time-consuming, but it’s almost magic - I've been told!  Stanley says that "No matter how big the job is, you can boil it down to one sentence."

So therefore, I am trying to  complete this sentence; "At the end of each day, if I've done ....................., then I've done my job!"

My answer needs to demonstrate the benefit to others in order to know that I have achieved the task. The answer needs to be simple and short enough to easily articulate and my own personal strengths will be apparent to ensure my impact is maximised...

Crikey... all in one sentence!

5 March 2015

Thinking about assessment...

Leceister Flockton suggests that there is a "need for an assessment-capable" system. He also suggests that out of an assessment capable system will come assessment-capable students.

" My question: what is an assessment-capable student and how does being one, activate learning?"

Currently I am experiencing a strong sense that just because "we know what needs to be done we don't necessarily know how to do it”. Currently, we find ourselves a blank canvas with regards to 'reporting to parents'. It's a privilege to be in that position as it gives one an unique opportunity to really reflect and challenge on the robustness of past practices and to really think about the possibilities that lay in front of us.

Both Flockton and Wiliam refer to practices which place the learner, their self-reflection, and their voice at the heart of the learning, with the aim of engendering pupil self-regulation. Their comments relate to the complexity of translating policy into classroom practice and I am really keen that that classroom practice becomes the central vehicle of our reporting.

At this week's professional learning session we were challenging our thinking about what needs to be done for compliance and then what the Eutopia might actually entail. The conversations were very much centred around the differences between assessment OF learning and assessment FOR learning. We have come from cultures of WALTs and success criteria, pre and post tests. All of us have a clear insight of how a child has gone and parents are of the mindset that they need to know where their child sits.

We found ourselves in the pit at one point. We debated whether collaborating with parents about learning was actually possible. There was a feeling in the room that this might underestimate the expertise of teachers. What we did know though was that we want to create a meaningful learning model and that information sharing needs to inform learning by -

  • focusing on describing what learning and progress has occurred 
  • make use of technology to support two way quality information between home and school
  • ensuring the key purpose is about ongoing learning
  • determining a common language that ensures sharing of and understanding the information shared by all stake holders including the learner, the parents and the teachers
  • children being active participants in their own learning and sharing

And then... there was our first magic moment. There was a light bulb for every single member of the team. We realised as a collective that if reporting to the parents was going to impact directly on learning and support next learning steps we need to be able to communicate learning as a process and not something that is done, complete, finished.

So, at my school we won't have a Reporting to Parents procedure.... We will instead be Communicating Learning! We are still yet to devise what this looks like but I am feeling very excited right about now!