Why Challenging Students Is Important

Challenging student mindsets outside the classroom

Ben Duggan

“This is boring, horrible, quite possibly worse than hell! Why would you make us do this?”

Recently I joined 130 of my year 7 students on their camp in Jindabyne. During the three day adventure, we took the students and climbed up to the top of Mount Kosciuszko in the Snowy Mountains.

Camping 1

While many of the students relished in the opportunity to be outside of the school gates and in the ‘wild’, some found it quite difficult.

I was constantly surprised by a small group of students who I spent most of the camp alongside. Throughout the camp they complained, finding it very frustrating, and at some points overwhelming.

The aspects of camp students found most challenging included the cold night we spent in tents – camping in the cold along the bank of a river in Kosciuszko National Park, cooking our own food, walking up the mountain and being very wet and…

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Becoming a growth mindset school

A great read on why Growth Mindset is crucial for schools – teachers and students – co learners!

Teaching: Leading Learning

The idea of becoming a growth mindset school has been over a year in the making. Our Headteacher bought each member of SLT a copy of Mindset for Christmas, and it was the main agenda item at our annual senior team conference. Today I launched the idea of becoming a growth mindset school to all staff at our INSET day. This is the basis of the presentation I did.

Our INSET session was for all staff – teaching, support, administrative, catering, site, network, technicians – everyone! It was essential for us, if we’re going to begin the process of shifting the culture of the school, that all staff are working together as one coherent team. It felt wonderful! As people arrived and settled down, we encouraged everyone to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire, with the results to be given out later! You can download our questionnaire (borrowed from John Tomsett and…

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Why Isn’t Antarctica on the World Heritage List Sir?

Year 7 Geography

Iceberg shaped by melting, Drake Passage, Palmer Peninsula, Anta

You have to love curiousity!! We were doing some research on World Heritage Areas the other day and the boys had a great interactive lesson using google maps plotting various world heritage sites from continents across the globe onto their interactive map. A follow up lesson because literacy is crucial and the boys need to practise their writing they had to add a few sentences explaining why they believed the sites they had chosen were World Heritage Areas. We are like many countries around the globe that are test driven so the boys have to carry their laptop and books still. Writing is crucial!!! I predict by 2020 writing will be less crucial for Year 7 but meanwhile………

We began the lesson examining what a World Heritage Area was and they quickly came up with words like “old stuff” and moved to “unique place in an environment” to “cultural significance to the world”. They came up with some great sentences to explain the concept. And then I left them to it to discover, learn at their own pace, assist each other, race to get the most sites done or simply compete to win the award for the lesson for “Best Effort”. Teacher as facilitator so learning is front and centre.

I’m reflecting here at the end of long week nearing the close of the the first Term about how my few lessons with Year 7 are going. We are in the midst of some program rewriting and implementation of new Australian curriculum syllabus material whilst also adding our own flavours to it. The lack of team planning or the struggle to find enough time to collaborate is typical of most schools but doesn’t help the continuity of lessons even if I try really hard but the boys don’t seem to notice this too much – maybe this is my hangup? They are engaged with the games we play and they are at such a brilliant age 11,12,13 years where their heads are simply eager to discover. I know things will change as they grow into teenage years but at the moment despite the inadequacies of time to plan and make everything perfect things aren’t too bad.

I didn’t forget that question either at the start of the lesson when one boy very quickly looked at a world map from UNESCO and asked “Why isn’t Antarctica on the list Sir”? Of course never answering such a question from my socratic 101 uni course led me to set him some extension learning to share with the boys next week. He wasn’t the only one asking deep questions and that is always a telling sign of an inquiring mind. It’s the silent class you need to be wary of.

I finished with that great Chinese proverb to the boys:

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself

And off they went home for the weekend to do some more discovery at home with their parents.  Now there’s been a bit in the news this week about homework and whether it is good or bad, should kids have it etc etc. In my class I said nothing. By Week 8 the boys know the minimum standard set for the lesson and those who don’t reach it within classtime have to catch up it in their own time. Call it homework, or work at home, or catch up time but anybody involved in learning knows that core skill requirements closing the learning gaps between students is crucial.  For some they don’t need homework at this stage but their thirst for knowledge will never be met in a 50  minute lesson.

Transforming School Culture

transformingschoolculture_1

I recently had the privilege of attending two days at a professional learning workshop with colleagues from my school led by  Dr Anthony Muhammad on Transforming School Culture and Building a Professional Learning Community (PLC).  If you have not heard of Dr Muhammad he is a former Middle and High School Principal from Michigan who has led remarkable turnaround in his schools and is now CEO and lead consultant for New Frontier21 aimed at training leaders for the 21C.

One of my colleagues, Westley Field, Director of Learning Innovation at Waverley College first met Dr Muhammad at the annual Hawker Brownlow Thinking and Learning Conference held each July in Melbourne Australia in 2014 and could not stop raving about how impressive a speaker and individual he was.  Last week I was able to benefit from my colleagues professional learning along with a team of four others for an intense two day workshop aimed at giving us the skills to move our organisation forward.

Dr Muhammad was certainly one of the most impressive, driven, passionate educational leaders that I have had the good fortune to meet and experience first hand.  He was down to earth and had a compelling message for all who attended.  His message was driven by some very practical strategies that included a focus on:

  1. Building a High Performing Professional Learning Community (PLC) in your school;
  2. Eliminating Barriers to Effective Collaboration within your school;
  3. Transforming Your School Culture;
  4. Building Transformational Leadership within every teacher.

We are very fortunate my school has been on an amazing journey of transformation and turnaround over the past few years that  has increasingly used evidence and educational research to inform and transform our practice as educators to develop our pedagogy and practice and also have some outstanding practitioners work with us along the way.  This year in May we will have Dr Muhammad work with our school leaders for two days around these broad themes as they apply to our staff and school at Waverley.  One of my roles was to lead the preparation for this visit and take a team that could maximise the time we have with Dr Muhammad for these two days.  So what to do from here? I thought I would begin by reflecting on the workshop and my major takeaways. What did I learn?

I think the summary of what I heard from Dr Muhammad during the 2 day workshop I already knew was critical.  This is not an arrogant statement on my part but I felt the workshop gave me the opportunity and timeout to work with four other teacher leaders from my school about what was particularly relevant for my/our organisation.  The summary for me came from the wisdom and experience Dr Muhammad imparted to us all.  One key message came from this abbreviated story from him:

Have you ever heard about the story about an educational reform and how it impacts differently on schools?  Some schools achieve exceptional, outstanding performance in learning outcomes for it’s students, whilst other schools struggle with reform.  One key outcome is the result of large achievement gaps for students that are not closed and lead to further stagnation or poor performance by schools who fail to transform.  What causes this?

Dr Muhammad believes part of the answer to this question lay in schools who have successfully built High Performing PLCs based on the work of Richard DuFour who defines a PLC as:

“A group of educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research in order to achieve better results for the students they serve.  PLC’s operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous, job embedded learning for educators” (2006)

PLC

Schools that are able to change their cultures to embrace new structures like PLCs are the schools that achieve the best results for students based on Dr Muhammad’s research in organisational culture.

What are some the technical aspects involved with this change?

Muhammad believes schools cannot get better until teachers improve. Simple but true. This is a central underlying assumption for transforming school culture – teachers who embrace their learning first.  From my experience I became a teacher because I loved learning and wanted to share this commitment and passion with others.  Many many teachers I have come across accept this as a central belief at the core of their success. The part the school plays is in providing the technical structure to allow this collaborative learning to take place.

How does this look in your school?

  1. Do you have regular collaborative meeting time for teachers to meet?
  2. Are your teachers engaged in “collective inquiry” or action research projects in your school?
  3. Do your teachers regularly engage in professional learning with each other and share learning?
  4. Do your teachers visit others classrooms to share and observe practice?
  5. Do your teachers collaborate and share their practice with  other schools via local, national and international networks?
  6. Are the meetings highly focussed on learning as opposed to administration?
  7. Do your staff engage in reading educational research to better themselves and their school as they address strategic goals? Applying research to your schools current reality.
  8. Does your school have all staff engaged in committees or groups addressing the key goals for the school?
  9. Does your Principal and Leadership Team focus on changing staff behaviour to be results focussed?
  10. Are accountability mechanisms in place where staff who do not buy into the culture change are challenged?

The list and questions could go on. Muhammad is a disciple of Jim Collins – Organisational Culture academic and author of Good to Great (2001), a book that details how good companies became great companies.  One of what Collins refers to as what Level 5 big performing leaders do is to take things off employees plate that are not essential.  In other words by focussing staff on the essential things that matter the organisation feels empowered and moves forward quicker.  This is the subtraction effect.  Many staff are time poor and feel under pressure to take on board all the new initiatives that are thrown up to schools. So hence a useful strategy to employ.  Many staff feel every new approach is another add on to a previous plan or reform and nothing is ever removed from the “new” plan.  Fair enough.

One of my notes I made here was what Muhammad quoted from Collin’s book about building a Healthy School Culture and the organisations who move from good to great.  Leaders in these companies:

  1. Confront the BRUTAL FACTS;
  2. Get people on the bus and in the right seats on the bus.

As I reflect on these 2 points they are INTEGRAL to a School Transforming it’s Culture.  The brutal facts is the HARD data part.  Data must drive decision making so a school must have data snap shots to begin with. Here he begins with philosophy.

“To be a good teammate, your responsibilities must be more important than your rights” (J. Orr 2009)

In short, WE is more important than ME in transformation.

Muhammad gave us TWO questions here to reflect upon:

  1. How do people in your organisation typically respond when they become frustrated?
  2. Does your organisational leadership relieve or add to these frustrations?

I really like how he challenged us as educators from a country not his own and drew us back some CORE BELIEFS.

1. SCHOOLS ARE PLACES BUILT FOR THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN NOT FOR ADULT EMPLOYMENT.

I will keep reflecting on my learning as I begin reading the books and study materials I brought back from the conference and think about the challenges as a leadership team member charged with responsibility for students learning at my school.

IRIS Supported Lesson Study

Class Teaching

LESSON STUDYThe 15 minute forum tonight was led by Martyn Simmonds and Hannah Townsend and focused on a project they have been working on.  Working alongside Brian Marsh from the University of Brighton and another colleague from the geography department, they have been developing the use of IRIS supported lesson study.  Lesson study is widely acknowledged as a great form of CPD – it’s teacher led, collaborative and hugely empowering.  Other groups have used it at DHS – here and here – but not using IRIS.

Martyn started the session by talking through the process they have been using:

lessonstudy

  1. Form a team
  • Three colleagues from the same subject area were used, as this allowed the discussion to centre around subject specific pedagogy.
  • The team comprised a cross-section of the department in relation to experience and teaching styles – a second year teacher, a Subject Leader who was new to the school and…

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