Professional Learning Everyday for the Modern Educator

As a new holiday day awakens me to a beautiful view overlooking the gorgeous Pacific Ocean from atop my hilltop mansion (temporary holiday residence!) I trawl through the news via my ipad, read some blogposts, check in with twitter and eat my breakfast!!

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What a modern world we have become. At one end of the breakfast table sit two octogenarians reading the paper and doing crosswords and to my left sits my wife and brother in law on their ipads checking email, looking for cheap holiday flights etc etc. I guess this is a fairly typical scene for any household this time of year so having no one to talk too I blog a few thoughts away……

Over the last few days I decided to get into the xmas spirit and spend some “real time” with family and leave my ipad alone but now is time to get back into the “work”. I promised myself these hols I would be proactive with my professional learning and post 100 thoughts over summer! The theme I took was “Creating Great Schools”.

One of the invaluable assets in a modern teachers armoury are PLNs (Professional Learning Networks). In the ‘old days’ when I first started teaching in the 1990s professional learning (or PD) was something you often did on a typical one day course and then forgot about when you got back to school. The internet has changed all that of course so these days if your serious about professionally developing your skills you can do it anytime in any number of ways. One of the best for many is Twitter

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Twitter represents for many teachers the modern day PD that can now occur anyday, anytime, including the so called holiday time. It keeps you connected to a wonderful group of fellow educators and then connects you to their networks as well which is like reading 100 newspapers instead of the one I read everyday in my small neck of the woods.

We all know professional learning is essential in many professions but some key questions to ask:

How many teachers in your school are connected via social media and actively join in PLNs?

How regularly do your staff engage and share good practice at staff meetings?

Do your meetings focus on “nuts and bolts” administration or is there time for sharing of learning?

Do your staff present at teacher conferences and share practice amongst colleagues at local, state and national conferences?

What is the “online” presence like of the teachers at your school?

Thought for the day: The simple response is great schools have great teachers who actively seek out and engage with other like minded educators who are constantly seeking to better their practice as teachers.

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High Performance Culture is Critical to Great Schools!

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One of the great things about modern technology is access to information anytime.  Like many educators I find holidays a time to catch up on much reading that is unable to happen during term time for whatever reason!  During term everything I mostly read is for work or class which is normal enough.  The rest of the time is spent doing “business” stuff that is critical but not very exciting to blog about.

One of the things I spent today doing in between a thousand other things was multi-tasking writing magazine reports, analysing HSC results, having BBQ lunch and recording ATAR scores, monitoring my daughter swim around in the school pool, talking to “new” old boys celebrating their final day at school with their best mates. Oh the joy of being a teacher!  Anyway modern communication keeps you in touch via Facebook and Twitter and so today I spent time reading some great articles.  One I love comes from Harvard Business Review that I know many Business minded educators read. Today I read an article that sums up much of what great schools spend their time trying to do, that is trying to build a high performance culture. The article was titled, The Defining Elements of a Winning Culture by Michael C. Mankins, and talks about the secrets behind organisations who gain a ‘competitive advantage’ by virtue of their organisational culture.  The key point I liked was the reference:

Winning cultures aren’t just about affiliation; they are also unashamedly about results

Results are key to great schools.  Goals set and results achieved rather than simply talked about around a management table where people sit idly and then go back to their teams and implement nothing.  The other ingredient which is hard to buy is passion.   How do you instil passion in employees?  I don’t know the answer to this one because for me it is built in characteristic not one that can easily impart or train staff to obtain.  Passion drives success culture and helps build high performance by virtue of the staff who have the passion to want the best in everything they do.  I find in the schools I work in many teachers have a passion for teaching and learning and the great teachers are the ones who can impart this love and passion for learning to their students.

Linking performance to strategic direction is important too.  What drives individuals every day in their job?  The answer is linking to a bigger picture called strategic direction that all great schools and systems have.  How do you get staff to buy into this?  That will be another time and another HBR article. For the moment I will leave you with the great summary from the Harvard research into the top seven characteristics that build high performance culture:

  1. Honest. There is high integrity in all interactions, with employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders;
  2. Performance-focused. Rewards, development, and other talent-management practices are in sync with the underlying drivers of performance;
  3. Accountable and owner-like. Roles, responsibilities, and authority all reinforce ownership over work and results;
  4. Collaborative. There’s a recognition that the best ideas come from the exchange and sharing of ideas between individuals and teams;
  5. Agile and adaptive. The organization is able to turn on a dime when necessary and adapt to changes in the external environment;
  6. Innovative. Employees push the envelope in terms of new ways of thinking; and
  7. Oriented toward winning. There is strong ambition focused on objective measures of success, either versus the competition or against some absolute standard of excellence.

One of my goals in 2014 will be to return to this research in the team I lead and try to use this research.  There is much great learning to be gained here! Using this 7 point performance framework could be a good way to start our 2014 conversation.

Student Interventions

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We all know providing feedback to students is crucial and makes a difference to outcomes but about following up students after end of year reports.  Most schools have finished the reporting period and by now are in the post to families.  Every school goes through this process.  But about students who fail to pass subjects or receive an E grade for achievement on course outcomes?  In my day if you go enough of these you struggled to go on.  In some school systems like France you don’t move on either still.  In Australia though most are promoted and the report outcomes are forgotten in the holiday whirl.  How many schools start the new academic year by analysing the previous years report data on students and following up by providing interventions for students who did not meet satisfactory level of outcomes? We could this couldn’t we?

In reading Pasi Sahlberg’s outstanding book Finish Lessons he makes the point in Finland, one of the top performing educational systems in the world over the past decade, that students receive learning support immediately they start falling behind their peers.  This makes sense. Intervention that is timely and when needed.  It appears to me we need to start 2014 by not only analysing learning profiles of incoming or new students who have high learning needs but also to analyse and provide interventions for those who have just completed a year at our school.  That is also a high priority.

In thinking about this every school has a range of strategies for this, most of them revolve around the Learning Support arm of the school.  Most of these sections in schools are struggling to meet student needs now due to high demand on their time so schools need to think creatively around this.  All teachers need training in basic reading recovery and literacy programs as they are first and foremost teachers.  Primary schools in Australia do this really as many schools rotate teachers from face to face classes to other support roles in the school like literacy or reading recovery programs.  High schools need to get better at this.  One way teachers could take on more is for all teacher who finish under a normal teaching load on the timetable could instead be given a “learning support” period or two and be assigned some students who failed to meet the required report outcomes.  If they failed to meet them in 2013 then are we doing our best to help them start 2014?

Examine one method of reading recovery intervention: “To give an example, thanks to a programme called Reading Recovery, we now know how the large majority of children aged six who have fallen behind with their reading can be helped. In a number of countries, including New Zealand, the US and the UK, a targeted intervention lasting a few months enables children with literacy issues to catch up. The programme is just the sort of personalised activity that Plomin wants – but it’s nothing to do with genetics. Admittedly it is expensive. However, over the long term the cost-benefit analyses show, quite aside from the improvements to children’s enjoyment of reading and their self-esteem, that the programme more than pays for itself. Eventually, good readers typically end up paying more taxes”.

Thought for the day: We need to do all that we can to help every student in our schools to achieve to the best of their ability, especially those who most need our help.

Yong Zhao at PBL World

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100 Thoughts over summer

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As we enter into the summer recess break in the Southern Hemisphere many teachers go into that valuable period of reading and relaxation or downtime from face to face daily school challenges. I like many others value the break, the time with family, travel, time to read, learn new things, develop some ICT skills, follow colleagues on twitter etc etc. This year I am tossing up further study and choosing PhD thesis topic once I complete a Masters in Theology which I have thoroughly loved doing through BBI and University of Newcastle. I thought a great way to really engage in study as well as share my reflections and readings was a summer blog. Everytime I have a thought I will feed into possible research or the school improvement plan for 2014 I will post a thought. I am sure I will easily have “100 thoughts over summer” and this way everyone gets to read about them!!