Recently I ran a collaborative project with four amazing educators and learnt from them what happens when we provide conditions, and then learning takes over.
Since then I have been reading the work of Tony Wagner and he writes that
‘isolation is the enemy of improvement’.
Over the years I have read around the following labels for teachers such as
- Connected Educator
- Disobedient Teacher
- Outlier Teachers
So focusing on Tony Wagner’s term of Outlier Teachers I put on my SOLO Taxonomy hat and made connections with my situation.
If you used our National standard Data to access us as a school you will quickly see that out the 11 schools in our Kāhui Ako, we appear to fall short. However if you dig deeper into our school’s data, you will see that many of our children have scores that stand up straight as they head towards the national norms. Therefore our children have exponential learning. If you look at our attendance data, we are above the national norms for attendance for our decile rating and for our major ethnic group. Our current ethnic data reveals that our dominant group is 65.1% Asia.
In addition we have currently surveyed our students using ‘Me and my school’ survey and can see that our children love coming to school, that they know where they are with their learning and that they feel safe and valued as learners. By doing this we listen carefully to our students to better understand their classroom and school experiences.
Most of our learners at our school need time. They need time to learn in their second language of English and they need time to collaborate.
Collaboration is essential for professional educator innovation. As an across school leader for our Kāhui Ako, how do we create opportunities for collaboration? Research identifies that the greatest variance happens within a school. Therefore I wonder what our principals and school leaders do to support and create opportunities for collaboration within their own schools. I believe that part of our ACCoS work is to forge across school collaboration yet still be aware of what happens within school.
In our school
In our own school we value transparency and communication. Our teams of teachers work together to collaboratively gather data about learning, set goals and plan learning. All data and planning is open across the school. Teams plan learning sessions to develop children’s curiosity and imagination, teaching them the skills and dispositions that matter most. Learners passions often evolve through perseverance, respect and self discipline.
One team has been experimenting with developing genuine interests through group projects. When we see this in action there is a genuine love of learning and excitement. Experiences are created that excite the learners both intellectually and emotionally. These teachers have the courage and sense of urgency needed to make a radical break from the old ways of learning and have encouragement from our senior management to innovate their practice. As students undertake new ways of learning they must provide evidence of what has been learnt such as the creating of something useful. One strategy I really like is the peer review that happens. Children give each other feedback on work completed and failure is celebrated if the process has been documented. They are known to take calculated risks and sometimes this has resulted in incredible learning. Problem solving happens across disciplinary boundaries and we can see other curriculum areas as well as key competencies come into the learning. These sessions are noisy and can appear chaotic to an outsider however real learning is happening as passion and purpose develops through this discovery-based learning. The children are intrinsically motivated.
Over time the other teams in our school are now beginning to trial and experiment with similar ideas.
Placing an arm around the shoulder of disobedient teachers- Digby Wells.
Often when I see teachers experimenting outside normal phenomena I am aware that they can be under constant scrutiny and ongoing questioning. An arm of support that I have given some of these teachers is to share their narrative using #TeachMeetNZ or reflecting via #EdBlogNZ. Often within their own school they fly under the radar but via social media they use technologies to learn from other outliers, connect with them, collaborate with them, and create stunning learning for their learners. They understand the importance of authentic, performance-based forms of learning and show their own learning via their educator digital portfolios. They leave breadcrumbs of learning for other educators to follow. They have a strong sense of service to the education community and often I hear the words justice and citizenship in their discussions. If I dig further I can hear the importance of sustainability and looking after our planet voiced strongly in the work they do. There is also a commitment to diversity and ensuring that all voices are heard. They understand and embed cultural competencies in their pedagogy. Therefore generally out of the norm these teachers have sets of qualities strongly in common with each other. What these qualities are? I am not sure of yet but I am working on my understanding.
Leading from the middle
Through the work of Michael Fullan we understand the importance of leading from the middle and that great ideas about education come from all levels and not just at the top. We are currently unpacking the need to work collaboratively and not in isolation. However within our CoL we are still unpacking what this looks like. Pockets of collaboration are happening at teacher level as some professional Innovation surface.
Where to next?
- How do we instill the Importance of service and giving back as a driving sense of purpose?
- How do we develop the In School Leaders (ISL) that we work with to develop their own sense of purpose?
- How do we engage all educators within our CoL?
- Ultimately how do we get our teachers and students working together across our schools?
I believe that we can do this through the use of technology to connect, collaborate and cocreate. Face to face connections are a beginning but I believe are not enough. I think we need to push the idea of connections and collaboration further to include blended connections and blended collaborations through using blended learning spaces.
Some ideas for further discussion
Within our school I can see variance between levels. For example our year 3 students have individual google accounts and use these to access their learning. When I look at our junior school there appears to be little preparation for them to move straight into using individual chromes. They use iPads generally as a tool to access apps and the internet. I see little evidence of creating with the apps. Some teachers are beginning to use SeeSaw to share learning and we are in the stage of bringing this into a school account.
When I look at our middle school, I see children using their google accounts for school work but see very little digital collaboration between children. I also do not see much sharing with the outside except via wechat and this is teacher and parent driven. As I look to their future at our school I can see little preparation of what happens at year 5 & 6 where children are expected to plan their day using google calendars. Or when our seniors carry our their critical friends evaluations.
Therefore even within our school transitioning between levels is a huge step up.
Our own ISL have organised our teachers to observe writing at a level above and below of what they teach so that hopefully this begins to address some of the transition gaps. This process has raised some interesting discussion. But as a digitally fluent teacher I wonder why not enough use is made of the technology for learners to see each others work or for them to work together in a visible way. I also wonder why many of our teachers do not show the children their planning via sites.
Sometimes as an observer who sometimes works in class, it is easier to be critical but at the same time as the elearner leader at our school I have worked hard to ensure that all equipment is maintained and working, learning apps are added to iPads that are requested within reason, online learning spaces are available such as Reading Eggs, Edmodo and Wevideo to help with student collaboration, Flat Connections have been used to help raise teacher learning in the use of collaborative learning tools but still there is the usual way of learning that I have observed 5 years and more ago happening. So as a strong digital teacher, if I cannot get our own teachers to move faster how can I get our CoL moving to work across. What I have done is look for my own tribe and that is where twitter has been invaluable. So on twitter I can do heaps more collaboration and co-creation than I can within my own school or across schools.
When I look at the collaboration chart above, I believe that we can move to level 4 where students are working with students across schools with teacher support using the technology. I was asked how did I know that across school collaboration is not already happening. I responded with, ‘If I cannot see evidence of across school collaboration, then it does not exist.’
I know how to get us there but I might loose a few people in the process.
Show me what you do
- Can I see your reflections?
- Can I see your videos?
- Can I see you chatting with colleagues in a visible way?
Surely by now our own learning portfolios are live and not sitting in a paper folder.