Wednesday, 11 November 2015

What motivates us to work?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn't just money - but it's not exactly joy either. It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. In this video Dan Ariely presents eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work. While it is not directly related to education, the findings are fundamental.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Dean of Learning and Teaching - Interview Questions

Dean of Learning/Teaching, 4MU, 0.8 release. We want a lead learner who is an innovative, highly motivated educator who will provide strong professional leadership within our primary school. Your experience at leading successful change initatives, including BYOD, innovative learning environments, and collaborative teaching will equip you to advance our teaching practice. Successful candidate will have a good understanding of organisational leadership and adult learning. If the prospect of coaching teachers to be confident at integrating digital technologies into their classroom programmes and reflecting critically on their practice exites you, then this job is for you.
  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.  What has brought you to this point in your career where you are ready to assume greater responsibility?
  2. Describe for us how you manage your stress during heavy workload periods.
  3. How would you describe your leadership and how does this influence your processes of decision making?  How do you see your role within the senior leadership team of the school?
  4. In this role, we are expecting the successful candidate to work alongside teachers across the school in a mentoring and coaching capacity to advance the process of Teaching as Inquiry.  Tell us about a time when you worked with a teacher to make changes in their pratice and the steps you took to achieve a positive outcome.
  5. Tell us how you have introduced an initiative to improve outcomes for students and teachers around the integration of digital technologies and the steps you took to ensure success.  What were some of the challenges you experienced and how you worked through those?
  6. What recent professional development has resulted in change to your leadership?  Why?
  7. The position of Dean of Learning and Teaching requires effective time-management.  Please give examples of how you would organise your week to meet the various demands and commitments required for this role.
  8. Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
  9. Describe how you have communicated with parents who find a new initiative difficult to understand.
  10. The Dean of Learning and Teaching is expected to be a lead learner and ensure the best learning and teaching opportunities for our students.  Explain how you would reach out to staff and parents to ensure all students have access to quality learning and teaching programmes.
  11. Tell us how you build a positive team culture and climate.  When I contact your current Principal what would she say?
  12. Have you got any questions for us?

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Educational Leadership in 200 words or less

A short summary of my evolving thoughts and philosophy.

Educational Leadership

Educational Leadership encompasses the informed actions that influence the continuous improvement of learning and teaching – with a primary focus on the relationship between ‘actions’ and ‘learning and teaching’.  Therefore leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.  “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” (Adams).

Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others (Maxwell).  Great leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way to others.  It has been described by Carol Cardno as the ability to “work with and through other people to achieve the organisations goals”.

As Jan Robertson has highlighted in her book titled Coaching Leadership, NZ needs Educational Leaders who are able to build capacity and commitment; build strong relationships and partnerships; focus on learning; understand the change process; and see the importance of finding new approaches to ‘doing’ and ‘being’.  When you hold this perspective of Leadership it is clear to see that “Leaders do not create followers, they create more leaders” (Peters).  The focus moves from growing yourself to growing the ability of others who are self-motivated to influence the quality of learning and teaching. 

Student achievement

The only thing we know about the future is that it is going to be different.  Many theorists have outlined the perceived skills and qualities students will need to be equipped with in order to meet the challenges in this ever-changing world.  We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change.  Therefore the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn (Drucker).

There are a variety of theories relating to student motivation and how students process information.  Behaviourist, Cognitivist, Constructivist, Motivational and Humanist, Design Theories and Models, Descriptive and Meta Theories, Identity Theories and Media and Technology theories all attempt to address how people learn.  Fundamentally they assert that achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one’s knowledge, skills aspirations and expectations.  They also enable educators to appreciate the individual identities of our students and provide a rich resource of new possibilities and approaches: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn” (Estrada).  I believe the depth in which we know our students, the way in which we involve them in their learning and the framework of high expectations we hold as teachers are pivotal to student achievement.


Reflective practice:  Taking time to learn.  “Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better” (William).  We owe it to the students we work with to continually improve.  Every day in our profession we are exposed to new and different ideas and perspectives.  Self-review enables us to critically examine these with a growth mind-set and a view of new possibilities.  For teachers to be effective as learners we need to work constantly to learn from what we do and what our students do.  This keeps us humble and ensures we don’t forget the purpose of what we do. 

Reflective practice is as much about identifying what we did right, as it is about looking for ways to improve.  Discovering that despite the challenges, we actually did a good job helps to give us encouragement as well as underlining effective practice.  Learning from our successes and our struggles leads to fulfilment and improvement, and encourages us to seek new knowledge, experience and insights.

Valuing teachers

“Nowhere does the quality of the school system exceed the quality of its teachers” (Schleicher).  This places the success of any school on the leadership team who select and develop teachers, recognising and encouraging good teaching, and therefore improving teacher performance and student outcomes.    When teachers feel valued we empower them to teach, encourage, instruct, praise, influence, guide and inspire.  “Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning” (Meehan).

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instil a love of learning.  It is what teachers think, what teachers do, and what teachers are in the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young children get (Hargreaves & Fultan).  Therefore it is the value we place on our teachers that I believe has the most significant positive influence on student outcomes.  Teaching is complex and ever-changing; teachers need to feel supported and encouraged to enhance the learning opportunities they provide through transformative and innovative practices.  Often this includes areas of considered risk taking.  “Never discourage anyone, who continually makes progress” (Plato).

Valuing support staff

Support staff are an integral part of our schools, comprising of approximately 25% of the school workforce.  In my current school they comprise of approximately 60%.  Support Staff can support teachers in understanding their students, save them valuable time in creating differentiated materials, and even deliver provisions and small group work to foster real, high-impact learning. 

It is unfortunate that support staff in many schools are undervalued or deployed in areas which lie outside of their strengths with limited training and input.  I have been pleased to see the NZEI Support Staff Day initiative rolled out over the last couple of years.  The simple expression of appreciation - your willingness to put it into words, is often all that is necessary (Cousins). 

Support staff have a potentially transformative impact on student achievement when they are prepared and trained, and have support and guidance about practice.  They make a huge contribution to schools who identify effective ways of utilising them.  Support staff that are valued, trained and supported, help to ensure the most vulnerable children in our education system will be enabled to reach their full potential.  “Treat employees like they make a difference and they will” (Goodnight).

My approach to managing change

Change is a process not an event.  Change management requires thoughtful planning and sensitive implementation, and above all, consultation with, and involvement of, the people affected by the changes.  “Designing change should happen before not after, launch” (Vargo).  The best change comes as a result of individuals realising they need to change.  Check that the people affected by the change agree with, or at least understand, the need for change, and have a chance to decide how the change will be managed, and to be involved in the planning and implementation of the change. If we believe that teachers are the right people in the role, we need to help them realise this on their own and not because they feel forced.  “True change is internal” (Shareski).  As Educational Leaders it is our responsibility to encourage our teachers to see and value the vision, values, strategy and goals of the school, and to influence their actions to achieve the desired results.    “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go with others” (African Proverb).  Change needs to be understood and managed in a way that people can cope effectively with it. 

Strong resistance to change is often rooted in deeply conditioned or historically reinforced feelings.  Patience and tolerance are required to help people in these situations to see things differently.  Be mindful of people’s strengths and weaknesses.  Not everyone welcomes change.  Take the time to understand the people you are working with, and how and why they feel like they do, before you take action.  “You don’t build a top school you build top teachers, and then the top teachers build the school” (Unknown).

Friday, 9 October 2015

TEACCHing in New Zealand

Over the last two days I have been fortunate enough to attend a course to explore the fundamentals of Structured TEACCHING.  This is an organisational approach first piloted by Dr. Eric Schopler and Dr. Bob Reichler in the 1960s.  The programme aims to create and cultivate the development of exemplary community-based services, training programmes, and research to enhance the quality of life of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families by enabling them to develop independence skills.  The fundamental goals of TEACCHing are to:

  • Make the world more meaningful and predictable
  • Increase initiation and independence
  • Increase flexibility
  • Support generalisation of skills
  • Decrease confusion and anxiety
  • Decrease behaviour problems

The TEACCH programme is blended with other strategies and curriculums to support and enhance learning and teach skills in the areas of academics, communication, independence, emotional regulation and social skills, however in essence, the TEACCH programme has its roots set in behaviourism; which if I am honest, automatically makes every bone in my body tighten as it is so far from the co-constructivst philosophy of education which I am so passionate about.  That being said, having completed the training I can honestly see how/where this could add value to my teaching programme for some of the students I teach.  I can certainly see how it would work for those Autistic students who are less able than the students in my current classroom too.  I think we are truely blessed as Educators in NZ, where we have the flexibility to examine programmes like this (and others from all around the world) and cherry-pick out those parts that excite us and we see value in, while at the same time, having the trusted autonomy to be able to leave others as 'interesting perspectives'.

Most of the students in my class have mild-moderate Autism, but are quite highly functioning - with a cognitive age of about 8-9 years.  Naturally any TEACCH strategies that I implement in my classroom could look quite different to those in other classes, and I have the flexibility to be more adaptive.  My students need help to improve their overall level of organisation as well as encouragement to increase their level of independence.  A large part of how I am going to work to achieve this is the attention that I am going to invest into considering the physical organisation of my classroom.
  • Where are the students going to sit?
  • Where will the students store their materials?  Would they be more independent/organised if they had additional space beside their desk?  How will the materials be physically organised (hanging file, folders, extra shelf, small portable drawers, notebooks, GAFE)?
  • Are areas in the classroom clearly labeled/designated for students belongings?
  • Do the students need physical barriers/boundaries to reduce auditory and visual distractions?
  • Do the students need an independent work area for certain activities/times of the day?
  • Do the students need a quiet area set up outside of the classroom?
  • What do their schedules need to look like?
  • Is there a need for physical structure in areas outside of the classroom?  Do the students need a physical structure during transitions that involve waiting, lining up, or walking through the school?
  • Have special considerations been made in the area of physical structure to address those needs in those more open, stimulating, and often less structured environemnts such as the Cafe, gym, playground and auditorium?
  • Is there any need to additional physical structure on their transportation?
  • Is there need for pre-planning needs in the area of physical structure for non-routine events such as a field trip or a fire drill?
  • ... and most importantly, have you spoken to the students about their needs and preferences?

If you had asked me a couple of days ago what I knew about TEACCHing, I fear my response would have been quite limited.  What has consistently surprised me throughout the last two days, is how many of the strategies I have already engaged with my students successfully, and without any awareness other than the willingness to try new things and see what has a positive effect for my students.  Who would have thought that creating a sensory room within the back corner office of my classroom to help two particular students in my class is actually a TEACCH physical structure principle?  And all those hours I've spent individualising "early finishers" activities, are effectively an independent work system activity, simply known by a different name.  Those colour co-ordinated table resources, labelled trays, personalised hook labels, even my reading/mathematics taskboard can all be considered elements of a TEACCH programme.

That is not to say that the last two days have been without challenge.  I believe that as effective educators we have a professional duty to ensure that what we are doing is helping to promote the most positive student outcomes possible.  I also think it is imperative that we are reflective and don't simply launch into strategies simply because we have had training in them - I don't believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water to jump on the newest, latest craze - and this is where I have become a tad unstuck with this programme, when I think about the students I currently have.

I do not believe that each of these students needs their own individual schedule.  Most of the class are quite happy to follow my shared planning and have the skills and knowledge to be able to do this.  The one student I have who does not, has an individual schedule.  I also do not believe that students need to have individual workstations.  I think it is imperative that students develop independence, but believe that my current students also need to have the opportunity to develop their social and emotional skills, and as such work better on independent tasks within a group environment.  I was disappointed that over the two days less than 2 minutes was spent discussing how group work stations can be achieved.

The challenges for me going forward is to identify key areas in my students curriculum where there are deficits and work to fill these.  'Curriculum' in this context, is much wider than simply "reading, writing and maths" - it needs to include their communication/language skills; Social/Play/Leisure skills; Fine/Gross motor skills; Self-help/Domestic skills and their Vocational/Community skills, all while also considering each students:

  • Age
  • Skill level/readiness
  • Interests
  • Social Skills and interations with each other
  • Understanding of boundaries
Let the challenge continue!  


Thursday, 1 October 2015

Google Certified Educator: Level 1

As you may have gathered, technology and I go hand in hand.  Having been raised in a generation where it has always been available, I feel quite at home with a laptop in front of me, a cellphone in my hand and an iPad on my knee - but how do you explain that in your Curriculum Vitae?  What are the implications of this for the students and colleagues that I work with?  How can I show my capabilities in a way that others within the profession can appreciate?

Google provide a great certification programme that addresses all of these issues.  It consists of three stages for educators:

  • Certified Google Educator (Level 1 and 2)
  • Google Certified Teacher
  • Authorised Google Education Trainer

About a year ago I started looking into the Google Certified Programmes for Teachers.  At the time I was advised to wait, as those who had already been through the process knew change was coming.  So I've waited.  These school holidays however it was time to put myself to the test.  I started working through the Certified Google Educator online training programme.  This programme has three sections: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership; Increase efficiency and save time; and Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity.  Being quite familiar with the Google Apps Suite I worked my way through these modules quite quickly, and this afternoon sat (and passed) the first exam being awarded by first Google Badge (watch this space, there will be more!)

The exam is limited to 3 hours, and I would recommend putting aside a large portion of that time (even if, like me, you flew through the online course).  I completed the exam in about 2 hours, and then spent another 30 minutes going back through each question to check my answers before submitting.

Google have a great FAQ page related to their certifications, however I thought I would also share with you some of the questions I had and questions that I have been asked, that no one else could answer (being that the exam is still so new).  Naturally, while I cannot and will not share information about the content of this exam.

How is the course structured?
The course is structured into three sections:

Can you do the exam in the weekends and school holidays?  What about if I'm on Maternity Leave?
Absolutely.  You can sit the exams at anytime that is convenient for you, however it needs to be when you have 3 hours with no interruptions and can guarantee you have a reliable internet connection.  There is no way to pause the exam, and if you loose connectivity you will have to retake the exam.

How long does it take for the exam to come through via email after I have paid?
This one surprised me, and caught me a little off guard, so although it is covered in Google's FAQs I thought I'd share a little about my experience here too.  Google recommend that you apply for the exam 24-48 hours prior to the day you want to sit it.  I did this, expecting it to arrive over the weekend (bearing in mind you only have 7 days from when it is sent to you to complete it).  Mine arrived in less than 5 minutes!

How much of the exam is practical vs theoretical?
The whole exam was pretty practical - the 'theory' section comes first, but is related to practical application.  The official line from Google when I emailed them was that it was 50/50 with more weighting going to the practical tasks though.

Are we able to have notes and other browser windows open throughout the exam, or is it 'closed book'?
No you cannot have notes/brain dumps etc with you when you complete the exam - but fear not!  Provided you are familiar with the Google Apps Suite, you really don't need them anyway!  When you log in for your exam you will have an opportunity to read the privacy policy and legal agreement to find out more about exam policies.  You are required to complete a NDA in order to take the exam and have a functioning webcam throughout your 3 hour exam period.  This camera connection is designed to take periodic photographs of you throughout the exam.

How long does it take from the point of completion for the exam to be marked and returned?
Officially it takes 15 minutes to verify your exam once submitted, however in reality this too was closer to 5 minutes.  Once the exam is verified you will get a message on your screen informing you of the outcome, and if successful an email follows soon after with your certificate and digital badge.  If you do not receive a result within 15 minutes, you should contact the team at Google (via email) in case there is a technical issue at their end.

If you are unsuccessful, do you get sent feedback directing you to the areas that require further study?  Is your exam returned to you to look over in preparation for the rescheduled exam?  Do you need to pay an additional US$10?
Google are unable to provide individual feedback on the exams, including your exam score, due to the large number of requests they receive.  They are working on ways to automate the feedback in the system, but do not have an estimate time frame to build this in.  If you are unable to successfully complete the exam on your first attempt, you will be required to purchase another exam for US$10 in order to retake it.

Can you do the course, but not the test?  
Yes you can - but I highly recommend pushing yourself out of your comfort zone that little bit more and paying the US$10 to sit the exam.  The pass mark is 80%, but I think you'll surprise yourselves!