Monday, 5 June 2017

Week 26: Current issues in my professional context

Current issues in my professional context

We are a provincial, urban, Decile 5 school of 360 students. Our school community is quite diverse, with ex-State Housing running along one boundary of school, and coveted 'Westside' properties lining the other. The recent property boom has seen many rentals sold, and has put some of our families under a lot of pressure to keep a roof over their heads...some of whom have been forced to leave our school as they could no longer afford/find accomodation. This has seen an increase in behaviour issues, and as a result we are having to be more pro-active, even starting a before-school pastoral duty to engage with the students prior to the learning day.

Our school has 5 core values, based on the word PRIDE...Peaceful, Respect, Independence, Dare to Dream and Excellence. These 5 values originally started as part of our behaviour management, but have since become much greater. Last year after work with the community the values not only encompass how children act (behaviour), they look at how children learn, their culture, and how they act for the environment. they manifest themselves in our new DPS Kid, a description of a learner at our school. Interestingly the description values learning as a part of creating awesome citizens, and academic success is juts one part of being a successful DPS Kid. This is a new initiative, and we need to keep the focus on it for awhile so that we don't shift back to 'normal' ways of working.

As a staff over the last 3 years we have been shifting toward a more modern way of working, with increasing collaboration between teachers. As a whole our staff give a lot to the children, creating many ways for them to be successful. Like many schools, the struggle to find 'time' can lead to friction. This can often mean that as a school we are slow to change and adapt. Professional learning is a good example, often seen as something being 'done to' rather than as a learning opportunity. We have started to provide a range of options for extra release for personal PLD time, running workshops within PLD to offer different things to different people, and this year I have started optional PLD...taking the great practice in our classrooms, and having teachers run optional afterschool sessions.

Stoll and Fink use these 10 descriptors when looking at improving schools:

Norms of Improving Schools
1. Shared goals—“we know where we’re going”
2. Responsibility for success—“we must succeed”
3. Collegiality—“we’re working on this together”
4. Continuous improvement—“we can get better”
5. Lifelong learning—“learning is for everyone”
6. Risk taking—“we learn by trying something new”
7. Support—“there’s always someone there to help”
8. Mutual respect—“everyone has something to offer”
9. Openness—“we can discuss our differences”
10. Celebration and humour—“we feel good about ourselves”
Stoll and Fink (1996)

I found these interesting to much common-sense and yet so much challenge wrapped up in a few words. Taking a step back I think that often in our learning environment we get some, if not most of the 10 running well...but not all. Is it an awareness thing? Should we be more mindful of the decisions we make, using these 10 descriptors as a filter...will our decision move towards more/all of these criteria being fulfilled?

Collectively we have a supportive, but not always engaged parent community. Our kids are great, our PRIDE values shine through them and our staff work hard to improve outcomes for their learners.


Stoll, L., & Fink, D. (1996). Changing our schools: Linking school effectiveness and school improvement. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Reflecting on Reflection

Reflection. This term is bandied about fairly freely in our schools, classes and staffrooms. Reflective practice, tick. On reflection I changed...tick. Let's end our lesson with a reflection, tick. This weeks MindLab webinar opened my eyes a bit when exposed to Zeichner and Liston’s (cited in Finlay, 2008, p.4) five levels of reflection.

Rapid - this is the main level that perhaps I have operated in...immediate reflection
Repair - post-lesson/unit thinking about what worked/what didn't
Review - verbalising, or noting down thoughts about practice
Research - engaging with research, over time, perhaps gathering and using data
Re-Theorizing - a critical examination of practice, using data and research to re-define what had been thought to be true

While I had engaged in several of these levels of reflection, it was never a conscious decision. I had often approached reflection at those lower levels, and it has only been in the last few years that I have grown into using more research, engaging with academia in order to find out what works and what does not in learning.

Something I thought to be so simple, now viewed as a practice with such depth.

My Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice...something I thought to be so simple, now viewed as something with such depth.

Wenger-Trayner define communities of practice as:

Groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

At first glance this concept can appear easy to grasp, but after further reading this wasn’t the case.

These communities can be viewed through these 3 lenses:
Domain - also called a joint enterprise - members of this joint or shared enterprise are joined together by a “collectively developed understanding of what their community is about” (Wenger, 2000)
Community - also called mutual engagement - essentially the community engaging with each other, interactions between members, and the development of relational, mutual trust.
Practice - also called shared repertoire - the pool of knowledge and resources that can both be accessed, are are created by the community of practice.

I assumed that my CoP would primarily be the teachers in the teaching team I work with, and leadership team, but in reality it is both wider, and narrower than that. My wider groups would include out of education groups I’m a part of, my family (in particular my wife) and my musical mates. I won’t analyse these.

Within education I have identified several strong CoP’ MindLab cohort (both the Masterton intake, and the wider G+ community), teachers interested in technology and elearning at school...wider than just my teaching team, and my online PLN.

The G+ Mind Lab community contains all 3 elements of domain, community and practice. The community and practice parts are more evident, and as the course has gone on, the stronger they have become. My part to play in this community has been small, but I do feel as if I have contributed to helping a few people with their course work.

At school a core group of us look to develop our practice,and the practice of others, using technology within learning. My involvement in this CoP is much greater than G+. The 3 elements are clear, and we meet the criteria. Involvement of external to sschool members would make this CoP even better.

Another CoP that I play a small part is is my PLN on Twitter. As my followers, and the people I follow, are self-selected we are buying into a community of practice agenda...we tend to follow those who we have common alignment with, shared beliefs, or who have interesting ideas. Our ‘domain’ is around what works in learning for children, and the collective understanding grows with each new person you follow, get followed by. A Twitter PLN engages with each other, adding to the knowledge of the whole. A Twitter CoP has a great strength in its size and variety of settings, the collective knowledge is overwhelming at time. However, its flaw can be its isolation, the fact that your PLN is digital, and they are not (in the main) able to view your practice, have corridor conversations or those ‘just in time’ discussions.

As I leave my AP role and step into Principalship, I am also heading towards a new community of practice to embrace.

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, 2015, Introduction to communities of Practice. Retrieved from

Wenger, E.(2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems.Organization,7(2), 225-246

Sunday, 11 December 2016

'You can Code your own way'

'You can Code your own way' - what Fleetwood Mac may have written if they started out today (try unhearing the word 'code' now when you hear that track...). How we let staff have a go at coding/robotics, do it their own way, and the success of that.

Our final e-learning PLD session this year we used as a taster, to setup thinking for next year. Some of us have been exploring the use of coding in our Options program, and I have recently started using Edison Bots within maths. While we have talked about these things at staff meetings, we have had little this session was designed to let people explore.

As a lead-in we set some 'pre-readings' to get people thinking. We included some Maker Movement stuff from Core Ed, to set the scene in terms of children 'creating', 'building', and 'playing' as a part of their learning. Also, dropped in an Hour of Code promo clip...

Those videos were good, but what this Herald article was a definite winner...1) because it showed NZ kids and teachers using coding and robotics as a part of learning, and 2) because it was 'old' if that was 2 years ago, then we needed to get cracking.

The session started with a massive win...we asked the staff to discuss what learning could come from these technologies, and we heard back from then about developing:
- creativity
- problem solving
- communication
- agency
- collaboration
All things that we have been unpacking and working on as a school, coding etc was seen as a vehicle to teach and develop those attributes.

For the 'playing' part of the session we took the learning approach of...describe the instructions for use with minimal detail, and give them the seed of an activity/idea to follow. We hoped that this would promote discussions between the people working together (trying to figure out how to use the tech), and would lead to creative we didn't prescribe the end result.

In the leadup we were nervous about how staff were going to approach the session, but it was fantastic. people really got into it, and the discussions were great. The outcomes of some of the stations were far more creative than what we had suggested...reinforcing to me that having a prescribed outcome is ot always best.

The slides are embedded below, and include links to useful websites with further ideas.

We ended up showing this clip about iLuminate, the dance crew. I wanted to end by showing that coding really has nothing to do with computers, it is just another tool to develop creativity. The video is amazing, and the amount of probem-solving and collaboration that must go into her works, wow. The video served its purpose, and broke down the barrier for some people...they could see then that coding had application in the arts, in farming, in whatever field of is just another tool to arm children with.

Monday, 5 December 2016

It's not about the Coding, it's about the Thinking

At Mind Lab last week a Steve Jobs quote was shared "Everyone should learn to program a computer, because it it teaches you to think". A few people disagreed with the quote, pointing out that thinking and learning were much broader than 'coding'.

At this point Rochelle introduced the term 'computational thinking'. At first glance I took it to mean coding, and related it back to Jobs' quote...but after a short discussion it turns out that computational thinking IS what we want from our students, and the skills it brings with it are at the core of 21st C learning.

Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. To flourish in today's world, computational thinking has to be a fundamental part of the way people think and understand the world.

Being able to problem solve, communicate, translate ideas into action, innovate and create...these skillsets are important to develop, and are a core part of computational thinking. It is much, much more than just being able to code a machine.

Google has an online course for Computational Thinking, and it describes 4 elements:
- Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller, manageable parts
- Pattern Recognition: Observing patterns, trends, and regularities in data
- Abstraction: Identifying the general principles that generate these patterns
- Algorithm Design: Developing the step by step instructions for solving this and similar problems

Again at first glance they seem to be computer related, but I love the ideas they also post to break this misunderstanding...they are mainly secondary-based, but illustrate well the CT concept inside a traditional application of learning

I think having this in mind when planning some can I take these 4 elements of computational thinking, and allow students to apply to their learning...would be a great start. It's not about the coding, it's about the thinking.

Monday, 28 November 2016

How leading a research team might be similar to / different from leading a teaching team

During last week's Mind Lab session we had a look at research into how to lead a research team effectively.

The key points were around:
- Setting aside time for leadership
- Promoting inclusiveness, do all members feel valued?
- Motivating staff by:
  • knowing members strengths
  • respecting their backgrounds
  • delegation
  • coaching of individuals
  • providing feedback and recognition
Obviously the parallels can be drawn with leading a team at school, or leading a group to effect change. 

This reminds me of some reading I had done a couple of years ago into effective workplace's. The Gallup Organisation identified 12 traits of productive workplaces, and most of them (like the ones above) revolve around treating your colleagues as people, and being very humanistic in your approach. The one that always struck me was everyone should 'have a friend' at work. 

These points are things that I need to continually remind myself of, and it has prompted me to re-surface the Gallup work for our Leaders team next year

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Augmented or Virtual reality in the Classroom

Our Week 3 Mind Lab session had a section looking at disruptive technologies. These technologies force or accelerate change, and lead to new innovations. Think Netflix, and what it has done to renting DVD's...

Some of these emerging technologies involve virtual, or augmented realities. Virtual worlds we can inhabit/create, or ways in which the physical and digital worlds can interact (Pokemon Go).

I've used Minecraft quite a bit now in learning...starting as a context to drive my writing program, through to children creating inside Minecraft (settings of stories, or just 'things' they want to make). The tool is a powerful one because it is open ended, it isn't a linear story to follow. The blocks, tools and the way these things can interact (via crafting table etc) means that the children are forced to build and create, rather than consume. The ability to communicate within the world, and interact with others adds more layers of awesomeness.

I haven't really tried VR aside from a little go at using it as a writing prompt. Using Google Expeditions this afternoon has re-shown me the potential for this as a tool...especially to help give children experiences that they might not have otherwise (even simple things like visiting a zoo).

Augmented reality, I've not had a go at. At first it seemed a bit gimmicky during the session, but super engaging. Towards the end when we made a trigger image and overlay in Aurasma, I could start to see some uses. I'm especially interested in how it could be used to bring concepts/content teaching to the children. Have some trigger images to do with surface features in writing (picture of speech marks), create the overlay, then then children can seek out learning using the app... up comes a video tutorial you can use to develop these skills before a writing session.