REVIEW: The Global Education Race

I remember when I was studying my Bachelor of Arts I would often start a deep dive into new and unfamiliar subjects with one of Oxford’s A Very Short Introduction books. Short texts, they are often designed to provide a start to much more complicated topics. They offer a foundation for further investigation. This is what is provided by Sam Sellar, Greg Thompson and David Rutkowski in their book, The Global Education Race, Taking the Measure of PISA and International Testing.
Designed to generate a wider conversation around OECD’s , The Global Education Race is about a better tomorrow. Neither an anti-testing manifesto, nor a champion of standardised testing as a solution to all of education’s perceived failure, the authors argue for a critical engagement with testing that aims to:

 (1) help improve the quality of data generated about education systems and
(2) support the use of data in valid ways that may improve educational outcomes for all students.

The book covers the media myth making machine, how rankings work, the way the test is administered, the problems with causation and correlation, the idea of validating claims and the politics of science and data.

The Global Education Race is a book every educator should read. In a time when education funding and support is so hotly debated, the book helps build the capacity for the wider public to engage in one of the most popular data sets used when developing policy. For unless we appreciate the context and intent associated with PISA, we risk being sucked in by the hype and headlines … Or better yet, an invalidated edu-holiday.


David Rutkowski has also been interviewed on the TER Podcast, providing a useful starting point.


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Imagining Different Learning Spaces


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Space has been something that I have wondered about for a long time. If I am honest, it is probably the last thing that I consider when planning. Maybe because it feels like it is given, already dictated by someone else, or maybe because I lack the imagination to think about what it could be and why. Some people have challenged me, suggesting that I simply need to ask the students. This may well be the case and there are often times when I allow students to move things around depending on what they are doing. However I think that when it comes to wholesale change, that even students are limited at times by what they know.

In a recent chat on Voxer, Jon Corripo provided his suggestions for redesigning a classroom space which again sparked my imagination. His list included:

  • Better Lighting: Blow out the T-Bars and get down lights, which you can get in LED format now making them a lot more cost efficient.

  • A Stage for Students: Does not have to be much, just something that allows them to stand above everyone else when needs to.  

  • Built-in Green Wall: Every room needs a green wall and with this built in lighting.

  • 360 Whiteboard: Removing the focus on ‘the front’ by having whiteboards all around the room. This can be interrupted with versatile slat walls.

  • Flexible Furniture: Get a mixture of skinny flippy flop tables which can be nested when needed, as well as standing cafe tables.

  • Versatile Power: Instead of disrupting the floor space, get electric cord reels that you pull down from the roof.

  • Project onto the Floor: Rather than projecting onto a whiteboard or IWB, mount an interactive projector so that it projects onto the floor and students can sit around it. For example, Epsom now have an LED projector which is only $350.

Moving beyond ‘flexible’ spaces, Corripo provides a clear vision for a different learning space that is still within the confines of solitary classroom that for too many is still the norm.

Although this vision would not necessarily be the answer for every classroom, what Corripo’s list does do is provide a picture for how classrooms can be different. Another interesting perspective is that of Michelle Hostrup who provided a reflection on how she went about changing up her early years space on the TER Podcast. Such examples help develop an idea of how things could be different. What is most important is that in today’s culture of changing work spaces, we owe it to our students to iterate and develop the learning spaces that in some environments I would imagine have become stagnant over time. This starts by asking the question, is the best possible set-up and if not, then what?

So what about you, how are you restructuring your spaces? What steps do you take to extend your imagination beyond the usual. As always, I would love to know. Feel free to comment below.


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The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies (TER Podcast Review)


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Something that has really influenced my thinking lately has been Doug Belshaw’s book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. The book stems from Belshaw’s thesis exploring the topic. One of the key insights that he provides is that there is no one ‘all defining’ definition of literacy, let alone digital literacy. Rather, it is something that we co-construct based on our community and context. It is for that reason, that he uses the plural and talks about ‘literacies’.

Instead of providing an overarching definition which soon becomes hollow and meaningless, he provides eight elements to make sense of the different incidences of digital literacies. The elements are:

  • Cultural – the expectations and behaviours associated with different environments, both online and off.
  • Cognitive – the ability to use computational thinking in order to work through problems.
  • Constructive – the appropriate use of digital tools to enable social actions.
  • Communicative – sharing and engaging within the various cultural norms.
  • Confident – the connecting of the dots and capitalising on different possibilities.
  • Creative – this involves doing new things in new ways that somehow add value.
  • Critical – the analysis of assumptions behind literacy practises
  • Civic – the something being analysed

One way of thinking about at these elements is in regards to ‘mindset’ and ‘skillset’, the is a way of thinking and a way of doing. While another way is as a set of questions:

  • What are the cultural expectations and behaviours associated with different environments and contexts, both online and off?
  • What are the steps/workflow involved in properly understanding the problem at hand?
  • How is the use of these digital tools leading to and enabling social action?
  • What are the norms for sharing and engaging within this context?
  • How confident are you at connecting the dots and using different digital tools?
  • How are you doing new things and what value are you adding back?
  • What assumptions are behind the literacy practices?
  • What is the something we are actually doing and creating?

 

Although each of these elements are interrelated, they are not all necessarily at play in every instance of digital literacy. It is for this reason that they are ‘elements’ not a definition. What the book provides is a starting point for how to talk about digital literacies.

One take-away was that literacies have always had a close affinity with technology. Too often we associate ‘technology’ with computers or other such devices. However, as Belshaw points out, whether it be the printing press or using a pen to write, technology has always had an integral part to play in regards to composing and consuming texts.

Another take away was that digital literacies are not merely about what we do or how we do it, instead it is about why we do it. It is about going beyond what Mitchell Baker describes as ‘elegant consumption‘. Although the focus in schools is on ‘authentic’ assessment, whether it be creating a blog or producing a book, if this is not attached to a clearly defined why then we are missing the point. This is often one of the issues with incorporating technology in the classroom. Students create digital products with little reason as to why. This is where referring back to the elements can help highlight areas of improvement, a constant reminder as to ‘why’ digital literacies are important.


Here is a recording of TER Podcast Episode #42 with my review starting at 36 minutes:

I have also written a more creative ‘final chapter‘, which seems to be more me I think than Belshaw.


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Electives, What is Your Choice?

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16593420862

In every school that I have taught, there has been some form of electives in place. From photography to robotics to zoology to outdoor education, the idea is to provide an element of choice and agency. However, this choice is continually contradicted by an essentialist ‘core’ curriculum, where what is taught is decided long before the students arrive. This creates the circumstance where students enter electives feeling that they don’t really matter, for if it did then everyone would be doing it.

Another problem with electives is that they are often decided by looking at the core curriculum and trying to fill in the gaps. The issue with this is that the supposed offer of choice is undermined by the fact that students choose from a predefined list, but often have little say in what actually makes up that list. Although this can be answered by asking the students what they want to learn or are passion about once they are in the subject, there are often expectations already set about what such subjects mean through subject descriptions and historical hand me downs.

I was interested in reading Greg Miller’s post on how his school conducted an enquiry into their elective initiative. Through this process they sort to reinvigorate the various courses to make sure that they were delivering the best learning opportunity possible. As Miller described, the purpose was threefold:

  1. CLARIFY that is, to….. “Make clear or plain” the intent of the Year 9 Interest  Elective Initiative.

  2. DISTINGUISH that is, to…..“Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between” current BOS approved/mandated courses and the  new courses.

  3. INVESTIGATE that is, to….. “Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about” the best way to deliver Year 9 Interest Electives in 2015.

What stood out was that instead of back filling the subject areas, the focus was placed on the areas of: inquiry, self-directed learning, collaboration and connectivity.  Such innovative practises got me wondering about whether there were any other points of improvement that could be made to the age old elective programs?

One question that came to mind was what if all the electives worked together in a collaborative manner, each addressing a different area, but working towards a common goal? A few years ago, as a part of my Digital Publishing elective, we worked with the Photography, to take pictures of all the students for the school yearbook. However, that was only two classes. Imagine if you had six classes working towards a common goal, at what could be achieved? In conversation, Jon Andrews told me about the Big History Project run out of Macquarie University. Aimed at Year 9 and 10, it is about gaining a deeper understanding of “the cosmos, earth, life and humanity.” As is stated in the introduction, it “offers us the possibility to understand our universe, our world, and our humanity in a new way.”

Going beyond the Big History Project, broadly speaking, Project-Based Learning offers a model to work in a fluid and agile manner. In her work with Learning Futures, Valerie Hannon talks about the power of Project-Based Learning. One of the things that stands out are the many entry points available, whether it be a whole week or a few hours. For example, many schools are using Genius Hour as a means for introducing Project-Based Learning. I wonder if Genius Hour could work in the place of electives? Where instead of teachers taking set subjects, their role is to support students with whatever it is that they are doing.

A similar example to the Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time or whatever you want to call it is the account given by Jon Andrews in the book Experiences in Self-Determined Learning of ‘Immersion Studies’. (You can also hear a presentation of this on the TER Podcast.)  Like an electives program, Immersion Studies Time was a designated time in Early Years designed for students to engage with the Arts. What is significant about this initiative is that it fits with school’s heutagogical philosophy. It is not an event, a one off, rather it is another cog all running together.

I have taught in an environment that ran inquiry-based programs in two hour blocks. Beyond the issue that if there was something on that week, such as sport or a public holiday, students simply miss out on their dose of inquiry. The bigger problem was that, as Kath Murdoch points out, “we can’t expect kids to be curious ‘on demand’.” If such pushes to innovate, to wonder, to be curious are not celebrated and perpetuated elsewhere, then there is a danger that they often go nowhere. This starts, Murdoch explains, long before planning. It is a way of teaching.

What about you then? What are your experiences of electives? Of Genius Hour? Of heutagogical learning? I would love to know. Comments welcome, as always.


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Three Things Learnt from a Finnish Lesson

There are so many ideas and arguments that seem to get bandied around online and at conferences that sometimes feel as if they lack any evidence and elaboration to explain them. These are the things that are thrown around during keynotes and chats as support for whatever is being argued. The two most common for me seem to be John Hattie’s effect size and the phenomenal success of the Finnish education system. Some of the things commonly attributed to Finland are that teachers are allocated a lot of timhe to prepare and that they do not do a lot of explicit testing. The problem with these ideas is that they lack perspective and speak of Finland as if it were some sort of ahistorical commodity, rather than an organic system continuing to grow and evolve. Continuing with my recent love of audio books, I therefore decided to listen to Pasi Salsberg’s Finnish Lesson. For I knew that there had to be more to Finnish education than a few titbits. As I have worked my way through the book, three clear themes have stuck out:
 

1. There is Another Way

This may seem silly, for of course there is always another way. However, in the midst of conducting tests and writing  reports, stuck in the humdrum of the present, the wider world can easily be forgotten. The book paints a picture of one such alternative. From the structure of school, to the provision of support, Sahlberg provides hope that things can be done differently and in many ways should be. For there are many avenues to success, not just the mantra of fear and testing.
 

2. Change Takes Time

I remember reading a discussion about Gonski reforms. What stood out was that many of the suggestions made by David Gonski and his team were similar in spirit to what was put forward through the Karmel report in the 70’s. This was no different in Finland. It is easy to celebrate where Finland is today, but as Sahlberg’s account describes, such change take decades to bring about and a strong political conviction. Interestingly, in an interview with the +TER Podcast Sahlberg feared that with the current Global Education Reform Movement that such a wholesale change is made so much more challenging.
 

3. Every Context is Unique

The message that stands out the most in Sahlberg’s book is that every context is different. Although Finland may be similar in size to Victoria and like many countries have had a move towards multiculturalism, this does not simply mean that they offer a recipe for success. There are two clear reasons why. Firstly, to apply the ‘Finnish’ model is to remove it from its time and place. For even now the system is evolving, particularly in regards to the reduction in government funding and other such issues. Secondly, there is the danger of implementing the Finnish model, applying some elements but not others, only to then blame the Fins rafter than a lack of true conviction. For example, there is a growing trend in Australia to make Masters the standard level of entry into teaching. However, unlike Finland, tertiary education comes at a cost, meaning that the two systems are not on par. 
 
 
So, have you read The Finnish Lessons? I would love to hear your thoughts?

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Different Podcasts, Different Voices

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14476927585
 
Someone recently asked me which educational podcasts I listen to. It got me thinking about the different podcasts and what makes them each unique. Although they all focus on education and so often incorporate some element of technology and pedagogy. What makes them each unique in my view is the voice in which they provide. By ‘voice’ I not only mean the perspective grasped, but also the means in which it is presented. I feel that the best way to represent these differences is through different forms of refreshments and the context created through each one.
 

RU Connected

I am not sure if it is my habit of listening to the podcast at school early in the morning or it is the style of conversation, but I always feel as if I am sitting at a cafe with +Jenny Ashby and +Lois Smethurst drinking a coffee and having a chat. Wandering from one subject to the next, each different episode seems to flow into one. What I like most is that it is a celebration of learning with an effervescent joy.
 

2 Regular Teachers

A little bit like RU Connected, +Rick Kayler-Thomson and +Adam Lavars podcast is a open discussion about education from the chalkface. It is an open and honest discussion of what is happening in and out of their classroom, as well as some musing about how things could be different. Whether this is due to the two duelling personalities or the common nature of the topics discussed, but listening feels like sitting at a bar and just having a few casual beers.
 

Teachers’ Education Review

Unlike the subjective approaches to education provided by RU Connected and 2 Regular Teachers, the +TER Podcast attempts to provide a more serious platform for the deeper discussion of anything and everything relating to education. Although +Cameron Malcher and +Corinne Campbell will share examples of their own experiences, it is often to dig deeper into a particular issue in the news. What is also a little different is that the podcast often provides a platform for experts to dig deeper into a wide range of topics impacting schools all over Australia. To me this is a more complex mix and I think that with its length, it is something that you dedicate a certain amount of time to. It is a serious drink.
 

Ed Tech Crew

I think that the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast is a bit of an enigma to explain. One week it will be casual chat between +Tony Richards and +Darrel Branson about tips and tricks collected via social media, another week there might be guest interviews, whilst other times they will open things up to a panel of people. In the end, I think that the podcast is best thought of as a night around at a mates sitting around drinking home brew where everyone is welcome. Although the process has been somewhat perfected overtime, you still never quite know what you are going to get each time you listen. There is no promise of anything in particular, just a few guys who love technology and education.
 
 
So these are some of the local educational podcasts I listen to, what about you? Are there any that I have missed that should be added to my playlist? If so, what is it about them that you like and keeps you listening. Feel free to share below.
 
NOTE: I must apologies for using the drinking analogies, however I couldn’t think of anything better to differentiate. 

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So Which Pedagogical Cocktails Are Drinking Today?

cc licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Thomas Hawk: http://flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/2355249759


I am not sure if I was being naive or slightly arrogant, but this post began its life as an effort to provide an overview of the different modes and methods of inquiry. Whether it be challenged-based, project-based, problem-based or plain old inquiry, I was trying to bring everything together in my own head, to make more sense of it all. However, what I soon realised was that the more I explored the topic, the more variants that appeared, with so many different ideas and interpretations. It all came to a head when +Richard Olsen shared a blog with me from +Ewan McIntosh on the difference between project-based learning and design learning. As you read through both McIntosh’s post, as well as various comments that follow, you realise that there is little consistency throughout. Although many of the differences are only marginal, there is little agreement on what constitutes either problem-based learning and design learning.
At the end of the day, the reality is that every teacher is different – we just choose to deny it. Even though we may practise a certain pedagogy, it does not necessarily mean that it will be the same as the next person. Rather, everyone has their our own intricacies and twists on the way they do things. What then starts to matter more is the practitioner rather than the pedagogy. I think that this is the point that John Hattie and co are trying to make by moving the focus from the student to the teacher.
I believe that this re-visioning of education is best summed up by Kath Murdoch in her fantastic post on the attributes of an inquiry teacher. Murdoch argues that inquiry-based learning is more than planning a unit, it is about facilitating this learning in the classroom. As she states, “Inquiry is not just about knowing how to plan – it’s about how we teach.” This got me thinking that maybe a better approach to work towards isn’t about identifying the ‘best’ practise as revolving around curriculum where the end is decided before the beginning, maybe our focus should be on how we teach and adjusting this to the needs of each and every situation.

The Pedagogical Cocktail

The idea that caught me was the metaphor of a cocktail. While chatting with some new found members of my PLN (Dick Faber and Alan Thwaites) it occurred to me that our chats were something akin to being at a bar and what we were drinking were pedagogical cocktails. However, unlike a traditional bar where you go up and request your drink, all the ingredients are laid out for us to make up our own. This creates a scenario where choice is only limited to our own creativity. Then after enjoying a cocktail or two, we are able to share back and reflect with those in our networks, hearing about the ups and downs, and helping us with our next choice of cocktail.
I think that the problem is that sometimes we think that we feel that we can only partake of a particular cocktail, that someone else always knows better, therefore we should listen to them. However, this denial of choice often results in teachers who have little engagement and ownership over their curriculum and classrooms, while it also restricts many potentials and possibilities. Instead, teachers maintain a status-quo that often no longer accounts for the world that will come tomorrow, let alone we live in today.
In an interview for the +TER Podcast, John Goh captures this situation by suggesting that, “all of us have a ‘default’ value from teachers college.” This concoction of tastes reassures and comforts us. That old friend whose welcoming aromas makes us feel at ease. The challenge though, as Goh goes on to propose, is that “we need to make sure that we move on from that.” Although we may know it, like it and find comfort within the default value, we need to move on and adjust our choice of cocktail to the food on offer or to the environment being set. It just wouldn’t feel right drinking a stock beer with everyone wearing tuxedos. The reality is that it is not enough to going back to the tried and trusted again and again.

The Right Method for the Moment

I entered this year with the endeavour to provide more time for student lead learning. Other than exploring +Mark Barnes‘s The 5-Minute Teacher, I took to exploring the potentials of different modes of inquiry. Having had some history with inquiry-based learning, I returned like the prodigal son, but this time instead of sticking to one particular model, I was instead interested in identifying the right method for the moment. This is portrayed by two contrasting units of work, one for Robotics, while the other for Business Studies.

An Introduction to Robotics

Having taught the class for three years, it was due for an overhaul. Fine, I had refined things each year, but instead of rolling out the same assignment with a set of questions and tasks containing a restricted set of ideas and information, I had taken to providing more opportunities for students to follow up on their own interests. So I began with a series of lessons focused on immersing students into different aspects of robotics, such as what constitutes a robot, some of the history associated with robotics and how everything is represented through popular culture. Once students had completed these tasks, they posed questions associated with each of the three areas. They then chose one of their questions to investigate and present back. As a class, we then created a measurement for greatness to provide a point of reflection for students to work towards. I really wanted to share these collaboratively and get everyone commenting and questioning on each others presentations. However, due to some technical restrictions, we weren’t able to do this. 

How Can we Measure Success?

On the flip side, for Business Studies I started the unit by posing the question ‘how can we measure success?’ From there the class investigated who they consider as being successful and what makes them so. After that, I gave the challenge of coming up with a way of measuring the success of a student, the principal and Lionel Messi. They then shared their different conceptions with each other, giving feedback about what they thought was good and what they would improve. Once they had fixed up their various forms of measurement, the class then used Socrative to vote on which one was the most effective and why. With this decision, they then decided to work in pairs to make a series of profiles of successful people and combine them into a book.

Although I am sure there are some who would argue that I have not really done inquiry, that I have probably cut corners and that I haven’t really taken authentic action. I would agree and I admit that this is something that I still need to work on. However, sometimes ideals aren’t always ideal. At the very least, a move from the teacher at the centre to the student was a positive change.

Know What Your Drinking When Ordering from the Bar

It can be so easy to jump on a band wagon, to wear a certain ‘ism’ on your sleeve as if it were some sort of given. The reality though is that there are no ‘givens’, instead their are choices and consequences, as I have stated elsewhere. The most difficult thing to do is actually making the best choice for the current context and situation. In a recent interview on +TER Podcast, +David Price suggested, “I’d rather you do didactic learning well, than project learning badly.” His point is that we sometimes choose a particular method because we feel we have to and baulk at others, because they are seen as flawed or contradictory. However saying a blanket ‘no’ to didactic learning is just as bad as saying a blanket ‘no’ to inquiry-based learning. No is not really a useful word when discussion choice.

+John Spencer makes a similar point in his insightful post ‘Seven Horrible Things That Really Aren’t All That Horrible‘. In this post, Spencer discusses such taboos as worksheets, multiple choice tests and textbooks, arguing that sometimes it is how these things are used which is the issue and that sometimes they do have a place.

In the end, the most important thing that we can do is be conscious of the decisions we make. I am aware that this is no simple matter, as was pointed out to me by +Darryn Swaby on Twitter:

@mrkrndvs #pedagogicalcocktail Here’s the thing…I’m not sure I know [what pedagogical cocktail I’ve been drinking]. I think that is why your analogy resonated with me.— Darryn Swaby (@DarrynSwaby) March 28, 2014

To me this all starts by asking yourself, what does my classroom look, feel and sound like and how is it different from other classrooms. I think that this may be what +Richard Olsen is aiming at with his new venture ‘The Modern Learning Canvas‘. Where teachers are not only encouraged to identify the how and what associated with learning and teaching, but most importantly, the why. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to at least be informed, through data and feedback, so that we can make the best choice possible, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

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This, But Not That – A Reflection on the Consequences of Choice

It is so easy to get caught up wanting one thing, but not necessarily wanting everything that it may bring. Take for example, the following:
  • Want an 8 cylinder car, but don’t want to pay for the increase in petrol
  • Want to use Google Apps/Chromebook at school, but don’t want to invest in quality Internet and appropriate infrastructure
  • Want to go on a holiday, but don’t want to pay for accommodation
  • Want writing proofread, but don’t want to discuss any of the changes
  • Want students to be at the centre of learning, but still as a teacher want to have all the control
  • Want a bigger house, but don’t want to clean it or pay the increase mortgage repayments
  • Want to have a big night, but don’t want to put up with the hangover in the morning

And the list goes on … This happens in all facets of life, where there is a discrepancy between what we want and the reality of the full situation. However, it is becoming more and more pertinent in schools.

 
So often the ‘next best thing’ is brought in. However, all that will be discussed is the idea, the concept, the skill. What is often missed is the baggage that it brings along with it. For example, I remember when Restorative Practices came into my first school nearly 10 years ago. People thought that it was simply about using the right language and reading off a cue card. Although this is a part of it, for some it failed to bring about the desired results because deep down they still wanted to punish the students, they still wanted to enforce control and discipline. For although they would ‘read through the scripts’, it was what they did beyond those moments that undermined the whole program. What was missing was a change in mindset, a move away from punishment to a focus on relationships.
 
Another great example of wanting one thing, but not necessarily recognising all the other consequences, was outlined in the latest +TER Podcast in an interview with +David Zyngier about engagement, curriculum and pedagogoy. Through the course of the discussion, Zyngier discussed some of the myths and misnomers associated with creating an ‘engaging’ classroom. One of the things that came up was the call for smaller class sizes as an answer to engagement. However, as Hattie and co have pointed out, class sizes in itself has little impact on  student achievement. What Zyngier points out though is that smaller class sizes combined with a change in pedagogy can have a positive impact, particularly in the early years. The problem is that so often we feel that continuing with the same old approaches will somehow achieve results simply because there are less students to teach. I think that ironically, the whole conversation between Zyngier and +Cameron Malcher,which started with ‘engagement’, basically pointed out that you can’t simply have ‘engagement’ in itself. Rather, engagement is something that intrinsically attached to so many other aspects of learning, such as knowing students’ background and interests, and if we are unwilling to recognise these requirements, then we cannot be surprised if students are not engaged.
 

As I have stated elsewhere, just as we have choice, so to do we have consequence. Often the worst decisions that we make are the choices where we are not also recognising the consequences at the same time.

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New Year, New Beginnings

 
Sadly, one of the first things that teachers often do is get their class lists at the start of the new year and start critiquing it, looking at who they do and don’t have, making judgements about what the class will be like, long before the class has even had a chance to take shape. The question though is what impact does this have for students and their potential to prosper? I understand that it is important to be prepared, to know who is walking through the door, but when does being prepared come at the sack of the child? I believe that with the new year comes the opportunity to provide students with a new beginning, to start again, to break out of the mould.
Although it can be a good thing to have long term relationships with the students, reinforced through interactions in and out of the classroom, this can also sometimes be a constraint. In developing rapport, we often create an understanding of who the student is – sporty, reader, gamer, social and the list goes on. Added to this is a judgement of their academic credentials. This mould lays a foundation on which to develop conversations and personalise the learning experience. However, on the flip side of the coin – whether we mean to or not – these informal assessments have the potential to lock students down to a particular ideal.
 
Some times the worst thing we can do is hold onto our memories. As time passes, some parts are lost, others are emphasised, but more often than not, our memories becomes heavily tainted by nostalgia. Last year, we had a student at school in Year 9 who was awarded a regional leadership award. To my understanding, the recognition came from outside of the school and had little input from the school itself, other than that someone believed in the student enough to put his name forward for the program. Many were surprised, a lot spoke about the student they remembered being a lot different. However, what is important about this example is that it demonstrated what was possible when given a new opportunity. Clearly someone believed in him to put him forward for the program, but the shock confirmed that the it was not necessarily the consensus.
 
The reality is that holding onto the idea of the past does not always allow students to grow, to change and to mature. It can have a negative consequence, whether intended or not. However, this opportunity to start again is not only needed for students, it also exists for staff and colleagues.
 
In Episode 7 of the +TER Podcast on ‘Engagement’, John Goh spoke about the ‘default’ value that we all have as teachers. Formed during our training to become teachers, it lays the foundation for the way we teach. He suggested that the challenge is to make sure that we continually move away from that starting point. 
 
Associated with this, it is so important to allow colleagues (and ourselves) the opportunity to change and evolve. A part of this is actually supporting their development, not hindering it, a topic I have written about before. Really, unless we are willing to give others the opportunity once again to take up an initiative, to develop as professionals, then they will automatically fall back into the age old image we have of them, if that is the only reality that we allow for them.
 
I remember being told when I was at University to only stay at your first school for four years. The reason for this is that so often the new, fresh, green teacher, who is still finding their way, is not afforded the opportunity to blossom, to make mistakes and learn from them. In many respects, I think that this indulgence of simply moving schools is becoming a thing of the past and what really needs to change is how we respond to such situations.
 
In John Hattie’s Ted Talk on Why are so Many of our Teachers and Schools so Successful? One of the key reasons he provides for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts. I feel that associated with this, we need to make sure that this knowledge is continually being re-modified and rebooted. Associated with this is goldilocks principle in the classroom, where the challenge provided is not too easy but also not too hard. For this to really happen, our knowledge of others (staff and students) needs to continually change, needs to be regularly reassessed, started afresh, and not simply built upon like building on the ruins of some old building.

 

How will you be providing teachers with a new opportunity to succeed where in the past they may have failed? How will you make sure that your knowledge and understanding of a student was not formed five years ago? What will you do to make sure that you are continually starting again?

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