10 Steps for Building Whole School Learning Culture

Last night I watched #4Corners program detailing the jobs of the future and one of the questions the host asked at the beginning was:

What will the jobs of the future look like and are we educating our children for them? @FergusonNews#4Corners #edchat

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Most educators out there would have loved the show and the online discussion that was generated around the relevance of much of what ABC highlighted.  Many in school leadership roles around the world have been witnessing many many schools struggling with an adequate response to this question posed by Sarah Ferguson.  I think the short answer is NO many schools are not adequately teaching students for their future and the struggle schools are having is how can they shift?

What resonated with me was the section that focussed on the schools behind the scenes. I think I saw at least two in the show — one of them being the Australian Science and Maths School in South Australia. Both schools looked and sounded like they were committed to whole school change processes, not simply one or a handful of teachers innovating in their classrooms that probably more accurately reflects the many schools I have worked in or visited.  I noticed the huge engagement on the part of the students and the excitement they had about sitting in the driving seat of their learning.

This made me reflect on my school and what I see as the key issues in building such excitement and engagement with students in my school.  Here are some of my thoughts.

10 Factors to help Build Whole School Culture 

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The show and comments I read later on social media reinforced to me the idea that if schools are to change their learning culture they MUST:

  1. Be Whole School Focussed and Committed to LEARNING

  2. Have Leadership that MUST resource and drive the learning VISION

  3. Build Learning experiences that are authentic and linked to real world problems

  4. Reinvent their notions of what relevant curriculum is for students

  5. Knock down walls and open up new learning spaces – no more industrial rooms

  6. Engage parents and wider community as “experts” to give feedback on students projects – invite them in to student showcases of work

  7. Commit to training of teachers as coaches and experts in new models of delivery of learning to students

  8. Be Future Focussed as a school learning community on the students future careers

  9. Build TEAMS of students that work on 5 week projects to create a PRODUCT

  10. Be places of continual reinvention and innovation that reflects digital disruption in society

 

Project Based Learning Curriculum – one way forward

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In San Diego a consortium of schools called New Tech run schools such as High Tech High that has achieved remarkable success by building the entire school culture around a carefully designed project-based curriculum.

Many schools in Australia have discovered this holy grail of building student engagement success.  My learning portal into the future has been heavily influenced by Parramatta Marist High School in outer Western Sydney that as been on a similar journey to High Tech in rebuilding their school and in the process has reinvented one of the oldest schools in Australia into what is arguably now one of the most successful and innovative schools.

Click here to read more about High Tech High, visit: www.hightechhigh.org

PBL Journey at Parramatta Marist High

“In 2007, the school principal (Brother Patrick) visited Napa New Technology High School in the Napa Valley, San Francisco. The school was considered to be part of a small but crucial educational revolution in the United States which focused not solely on the content that students needed to acquire before they left high school, but also on the 21st Century skills that students would need in order to be successful in life. With guidance from an overseeing organization (New Tech Network) and support from the strong underlying model of Project Based Learning, the school was successful and had strong community and parental backing.

On his return, Brother Patrick spoke to staff about the changes he had witnessed in schools overseas and to consider the future direction of Parramatta Marist High School. Several staff intrigued by this PBL model attended a week-long conference in the United States and then on their return, began the task of planning for the implementation of this model at our school, for 2008. Since then, Brother Patrick and the CEO (Parramatta) have shown their belief in the model and their dedication to improving the learning of students by allowing further staff to train in the model, by redeveloping current learning spaces and also encouraging staff to strive and achieve their Train the Trainers Certification. This certification enables staff to provide teacher training in the PBL model, both at our school and overseas.”

Centre for Deeper Learning (CDL)

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The ongoing journey of transformation that began in 2007 continues to this day in ever new and exciting ways.  The school has established its own staff training facility called the Centre for Deeper Learning that has trained countless teachers in their PBL method of curriculum delivery.  I have been a visitor many times to this outstanding school and group of educators that lead the vision of PMH.

I am now in the privileged position of leading a school community and I like many leaders am constantly looking for a recipe that guarantees school success for each individual.  We are now in the process of committing our school to a vision of building a Project Based Curriculum starting in the Middle Years in 2017.

Why Middle Years PBL?

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Most resistance, disengagement, boredom and resistance to learning comes in the teenage years when students, particularly boys, but also girls, get past the point the age of Primary schooling and early High School years of learning to do the ‘right thing’.

Some would say pick Year 7 which is an easier group arguably for a new program to succeed.

Building a PBL Curriculum

So how does/will this look for your typical Year 9 or Year 10 student next year?  My school is currently researching and planning this.  Conversations around where to start and who or what subject areas to start with are in discussion with Leaders of Learning.  Of course we are using Parramatta Marist as our ‘critical friend’ and people such as Kurt Challinor, Director of the Centre for Deeper Learning is helping us in many ways.

Most of the modelling and inservicing behind Parramatta’s success has come from networking as part of the New Tech Network and Buck Institute of Education (BIE) in the United States.

So what are the Core Components of a Project Based Curriculum?

This is a snap shot of our learning so far using language of PBL

  1. Need to Know – what do students need to know?
  2. Driving Question – what is KEY question driving the project for the students?
  3. In-Depth Inquiry – giving students time in their project teams to build deep learning
  4. Voice and Choice – students own their learning (student voice)
  5. Revision and Reflection – time for students to review and reflect on their learning
  6. Public Audience – having students present their project work to ‘real’ audience

 

So wish us well as begin our journey of transformation like many other schools who want to engage students in their learning and re-imagine learning with the simple desire to improve student outcomes.

 

Learning that Changes the World…….

Like many colleagues around the globe we are stopping for the holiday season here in Oz that is upon us.  As with any break it is much needed time to step back, enjoy the view, read, do more reading, talk, swim, run, read more, reflect and grow.

Sunset 2015

I  am also finishing my time at my current school as Head of Curriculum and next year move my family to the country to begin the next part of our journey.  For me this involves becoming Principal of a small Catholic Co-ed High School in Grafton, NSW about 6-7 hours north of Sydney and 3 hours south of Brisbane.

I am eagerly preparing for this new position and all the amazing people and things that lie ahead for me. No doubt the next few years will be a HUGE learning curve for me which I cannot wait to begin. I am so thankful for all my previous schools and leaders I have worked with because now I have found myself reflecting on all the great learnings I experienced that I can now take with me to my new school. The good stuff stays the course in any school or organisation and the other stuff becomes a rich learning about what to change!

But that is next year (only a few weeks away!!) and here I wanted to give thanks for the many gifts and opportunities I have experienced over the past 4 years. There have been many highlights, too many to list them all so here goes a short summary with some broad themes.

1. Building a PLC with Amazing colleagues – the best people I have encountered are the ones who have challenged me and forced me to grow as an educator. They didn’t always agree with me but they questioned and were prepared to grow theirs and my mindset. I am thankful for people who helped me grow and develop my leadership skills here.  All the research about teachers being the single biggest influencer of learning outcomes for students is spot on.

The move in Australia and globally about connecting teachers in schools and linking to professional bodies like AITSL and NSWIT is a natural progression that will only make our profession an even greater one.  The reality is we cannot afford teachers in our schools to not be effective.  Every teacher must have an impact or otherwise our children suffer.  Ask any teacher who is a parent: you  want your child educated by a teacher who  cares, has tonnes of compassion or understanding, is a 21C professional connected educator and who is prepared to go the extra mile for all the kids they educate. As with any organisation we need the best teachers in schools because -:

The simple formula is:

If you have a school of GREAT teachers then you have a GREAT school!

The many thousands reading this (insert big belly laugh I Want to hear from St Schols in Glebe to HW Longfellow in Virginia, USA !!!) would automatically say ” I know this already Mark!!!!”

The big money question hence the huge book, conference and consultants on offer world wide from Dylan William to My mate Pasi and Andy, sorry Mike and George nearly forgot you, is………….


HOW do you build a workforce of great teachers?

 

 

Well keep reading……..

 

Building a Professional Learning Community through shared practice

 

2. Access to Learning Innovation – schools need to be all about CHANGE and adopt rapid and long lasting change methods. I have been lucky to be in a position to lead this.  Leading change in schools is a challenging proposition, as well as demanding as you age (I’m getting older now nearly 27 but then my daughter says add another 20 Dad!!)

Working with resistance is tiring but worthwhile mostly in part because the students are the big winners of innovation in learning. I think change has more to do with giving our students the best rather than pandering to a small handful of staff who place their interests in front of their students. Get on with it the j0b we were employed to do!!

I have spent last 4 years working side by side with Westley Field, who assumed the position in my school of leading innovation in learning at the same time I began in my role.  Westley was responsible for leading and developing a model of learning called LIBERATE.  He built this from the ground up working with all staff and teacher leaders to build a common language.  This has been a key role for our teachers who have been reskilling and learning new concepts about what it means to be a connected educator who understands and practices blended learning with students.

Vital!! And led by Westley who started getting the school investing heavily in……

 

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Turn every space into a new innovative space

 

3. Professional Learning as Leadership Capability Building – no amount of money is enough that can be spent on this particularly for leaders. Do not put your Business Manager anywhere near the PD budget!!

I have been privileged to be part of eye opening PD opportunities in my time and this budget, an investment in conferences, but even better overseas school visits to international schools that builds networks and opens eyes for teachers is CRUCIAL for the modern connected school has for most part come with Westley and his role of innovating to learn.

Investing to bring international and national scholars like Gary Stager, Stephen Heppell, Anthony Muhammad, Greg Whitby, Dr Rinda Montgomery, Professor Donna Cross, and Dr Leoni Degenhardt to name just a few of the more well known educators that have visited our school or have worked with our teachers.  This has come from the direct impact of having a key figure leading learning innovation and being closely involved was one of my professional highlights. Presenting with Westley on our schools model of learning with our boss at the  2012 ACEL conference was our combined attempt to fast track the execs notion of professional learning. School leaders must be out and about networking, sharing and exposing themselves and their school to huge new opportunities that flow from this investment.  Administrative school leaders that do not talk learning are a relic of the past.  Leaders in the digital age must be leaders of INSTRUCTION!!

 

Shifting
Transformation of schooling is KEY

 

Teachers need to SEE and be exposed to national and international best practice to innovate and change practice.  Global education has broken down considerably and Australian educators need to step up here and start leading the way on the international stage. Everywhere American educators dominate the market with conference presenters and books and it will be great to see a little Aussie flavour  here soon too!!! A great aussie read here is one schools story of complete transformation DANCING ON A SHIFTING CARPET  by Leoni Degenhardt ( no offence here to all the amazing US educators I follow and buy books from just a bit of aussie flavour this xmas time).  Here Leoni talks about the creative and capable learners our schools need to be producing for the information future and the transformation that schools must undertake. A good read of one schools journey over a number of years.

 

4. Learning Space Design + Time – critical to new   Learning methods and design.  This goes hand in hand with innovation in learning.  The more I read about online learning and huge global market growth the more schools need to grasp the new role of the Blended teacher is ALREADY here.  Some schools have grasped the concept of Blended learning easily because they realise that much of student learning doesn’t take place in the traditional classroom anymore (read the book mentioned above)

 

Photo reprinted with permission by Unsplash. Photo by Sonja Langford
Time to build PLCs VITAL!

 

Successful schools I have visited like @ParraMarist reveal students working harder outside the 9-3 school bell timetables accessing teacher materials online.  The notion of the one teacher 25 student classroom is morphing to something NEW and innovative hence their numerous awards and recognition from worldwide leaders like Apple and New Tech for their bravery in breaking the mold of traditional schooling. This puts the emphasis on LEARNING when students gather with their teacher for discussion in their 100 minute lessons instead of wasting time introducing new content during the lesson. They are not alone but are ahead of the pack.

Some schools are still negotiating this. The world has changed drastically since many teachers attended school so the obvious questions needs to be asked and answered by schools:

1. Why do many school classrooms still look like they did in 1986 (when I left school) desks and rows?

2. Does learning space or the environment influence the learning outcomes for students?…..Yes so lets get on with changing them…..

3. Can students access your learning materials completely online ( modern space)?…..if not then make it so…….

4. Do you provide feedback or online discussion boards as part of your assessment of student learning (contemporary learning design)?

5. Does your school provide Professional Learning Team time during the day to meet in teams plan and discuss student work?

6. Are we taking too long to hand hold teachers through change processes when we need to spend more time on asking what is best for our students FIRST and then get on implementing this change? Is school about teachers or students and which comes first? ……students come to learn and teachers are trained to assist this right? If we agree with this then schools are all about STUDENTS!!!

 

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School leaders must lead through collaboration and innovation

 

5. Leadership – crucial crucial crucial.

Just like teachers but even more important to have a great leader  and leadership TEAM and teacher leaders prepared to chart a course or way forward for the school. Great schools NEED great leaders.  Two of the most outstanding I have seen in Sydney that is influencing me greatly has been Parramatta Marist (a little bit of a fan!!) and Schools like Northern Beaches Christian School that have visionary leadership under Stephen Harris who I met years ago at a ACEC conference in Cairns.  A thoroughly impressive leader then who has transformed his school in every way. Some talk about Innovation Stephen does it.  Stephen and his team under Anne Knock Stephen Collis and others have been leading tours for leaders to places like Germany, Finland, Sweden to experience first hand what eye opening, amazingly wonderful design exists and what can Australian schools learn from them.  It is best to book a tour and visit NBCS to see.

I have enjoyed being part of a leadership team for the past 4 years, all different in personality and backgrounds but united in our pursuit of a common vision and bringing that vision to fruition. That work can ultimately only be beneficial for our organisation. I am thankful for this great gift and for all my Principal taught me about keeping things positive. I feel positivity will be key theme of senior leadership!!

 

6. Wellbeing…… The student part!! All about the students…… I could have put this first because schools exist first and foremost for students but it helps the students if points 1-5 are in place to build a great school for them doesn’t it?

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Learning is the OIL of Student Wellbeing

 

My school has spent the past four years deeply immersed in building more holistic student wellbeing structure whilst also transforming the vision, culture and environment.  I did not “live long enough” to see the whole wellbeing house constructed but certainly saw many of the building blocks get put in place.

What did I learn?

Let me quote of my heroes and good friend Professor Donna Cross who says:

“Wellbeing is the OIL of learning!!!”

Nice, simple and easy to remember or was it –  learning is the oil of wellbeing?!?!!…….. Anyway hopefully you get the point the two are intrinsically linked.

If a child is Happy and positive about their school and who they are  in the world then learning will look after itself and that student will thrive and prosper.

So like many schools we visited on huge trips and research missions it all comes down to this simple message . Keep them happy!! And they will engage, thrive and learn and grow.

Again this is harder in reality that it sounds but building wellbeing programs into the curriculum is a big step in recognising the need for schools to adapt and adopt new ways of doing traditional pastoral care programs. Mindfulness and positive psychology programs are two just to name a few that should be incorporated into what students learn whilst at school.

All schools want to produce outstanding socially responsible citizens who not only are outstanding role models with their learning but also contribute to making THEIR world a better place.  To this end when you see one of your students, who also just happened to the the Dux, then head off on a 750km+ walk from Bondi to Byron to raise funds for others in less developed world then you can sit back and feel proud that something came out of their Timor Leste immersion in Year 11 to lead them to this!!!! Amazing stuff. I often read about this kind of stuff happening in schools but feel very proud this time it’s my school!!!….or was my school but the idea lives on in me for my next school….learning that will change the world and make it a better place!!

At this time of year so much to give thanks for so I’m glad I just spent the past few hours sitting in airports  across a few days thinking about my year but more importantly writing this outstanding post. Thankful and humble too!!

In my best French to all those who helped me this year, or over the past few years or will help me, famous or not so famous alike, ‘Joyeaux Noel’🌲🌲🌲

And have a great New Year wherever you are. I look forward to making more connections and learning so much from you all in 2016!!

Being a Connected Educator Takes Time

I am on leave presently so I find myself with more time on my hands than normal so my reading and online activity is a little higher than it is usually.  I am reading more but haven’t reflected on my reading for a while so here goes.

Recently I was in a chat on Twitter and the question was posed how are you connected online and what do you use more regularly for your professional learning? This is a hot topic at present in several forums so it got me thinking about my own use, how I connect, what I connect to and how often etc etc

I am also reading on my Ipad at present a great book on Being a Connected Educator and keep interrupting my reading to do the online activities at the end of each chapter – I am finding it disruptive with all the online links and activities the book draws me off too but also enjoyable connecting with even more educators across the globe like Jimmy Cassas, Todd Whitaker, and Jeffrey Zhoul. Each of these educators has been there done that and I am enjoying reading their books.  I am also in process of trying to stop buying hardcopy books as they take up so much of house now, the Kindle cloud version on my Ipad is much easier, not to mention cheaper.

I think I am your typical educator, one always looking for ideas and new and more improved ways of doing things. This is where being connected comes in handy. My social media and learning networks give me a wide range of connections to so many great people it is hard to find the time to keep up with them all, then of course you realise you can’t but you keep reading anyway.

I think the best place to look to find what people follow are the apps on your phone. So what are my some of the networks/apps on my phone that keeps me CONNECTED and how do I use them?


1.  Twitter is easily number one for me. So simple so easy to use and connect with like minded educators everywhere. I view it as a daily news read forum where I jump in and out of discussions. My phone or iPad is constantly buzzing with news from Twitter. I connect with a lot of groups but largely educational work related stuff with some other interest sport politics travel forums etc. Twitter is a daily, many times a day quick read forum, post, favourite, link, share, retweet, chat, DM place.

 


2. Instagram is a relatively new one for me. I am  a big lover of design, learning space, photography and so forth so I love the simplicity of taking a photo editing on my phone and posting somewhere. I think, like many, the artist, builder, designer in me finds a little community in this space so photos and art live here. Once a day photo, edit, create, share, play. Very enjoyable. I follow a few groups so see great pictures here.

 


3. WordPress. A great connection and another news read forum like Twitter but no character limits.  I use as my website but also like many connected educators their reflection space – just another space or home to collect ideas. I am inspired by fellow educators here in the great land of Oz where I live such as Greg Whitby who was one of the very first people I followed after hearing him in the flesh at a conference years ago.  He is one of the few Educational leaders I am aware of in Australia at a senior system level of leadership, at least in Catholic education land where I belong who blogs regularly and as such is a great example of model for others like me.  I am always in awe of how he finds time to blog but I figure it’s like anything else in a busy week; schedule time for it in your calendar and it happens.  Another Principal I follow and enjoy reading from Australia is Greg Miller who has been good to follow and read how learning is being transformed in his school, a good example of where the research is put into action!

 

Creative-Ground-LinkedIn-for-Business

 

 

4. LinkedIn. Another interesting space and similar but different connections to my Twitter and Blog space. A lot of HR, Business, IT types meets Educators (my world) here. Great for connections online then people who want face to face meetings. I view it a bit like an online resume for myself. If you are going to be CONNECTED you need an online presence here. It’s also interesting because I meet a lot of senior leaders who may not necessarily be on Twitter but use LinkedIn for whatever reason. A lot of jobs appear here and consultants spruiking their skills but also some great connections. Maybe once or twice a day, or every couple days.

 

5. Slideshare. Great for presentations. Often finish up here when a lot of speakers put conference notes or presentations here.

6. Coursera. Short courses online that grab my fancy. Occasionally scrawl through for ideas. It’s a bit like Uni study need a fair bit of time commitment here but I have enrolled some accelerated students at school so much more to be explored here for schools in how to use these amazing courses.

7. YouTube Channel. Great place to store all videos I’m watching or using.

8. Google. Enough said. Connections everywhere. Google Drive. Google Projects. Docs…..

9. Prezi. Love to use for jazzy presentations for staff. Many presenters moved to this and other similar products when they wanted a change from Powerpoint in 1995! Hah just kidding.

 

10. Storify. Everyday I get great news feeds from many sites that come to my Storify space. Storify curates or collects and gathers stories based on topics and tags so this great place to read or scan articles a bit more in depth than Twitter.

I could go on but I think these are my TOP 10 apps or sites I am using at the moment for my own professional growth and learning.  It is great being connected because there is so much to READ.  The issue is finding the time to read it all and this takes commitment.

Constant Feedback and Communication in Schools: building GREAT teachers

I was recently at a Professional Learning meeting with the great team @ParraMarist and spent the day with other teachers talking about learning and teaching in our schools.  Some of the conversation shifted off in the breaks to how things were done regarding communication structures in our schools.  It was interesting to note some of the similarities as well as differences in how great schools are constantly looking at refining their processes of communication to staff and leaders.

Weekly Communication

Some short whole staff briefing about core events in the life of the school either at the start or end of the week. When I asked one teacher why the end of the week because my schools had always done their briefings at the start of the week ( ie. Monday) I was told this allowed their school to not only deal with the organisational side (calendar events coming up next week) but gave time to celebrate and share teacher and classroom success THIS week! A nice shift from operational to strategic items without many possibly realising. This certainly helps getting short conversations around teaching by teachers with other teachers in a short meeting format on the agenda in a simple communication format. I liked the simplicity of the format. Not to say that couldn’t happen on a Monday but ask any teacher let alone worker the obvious difference in the staff room between a Monday and a Friday and Friday becomes a great natural day to celebrate other things too like birthdays, anniversaries, etc for the week all before the weekend.

Embedding Staff Professional Learning Time. 

I also heard great ideas about this one. Many schools struggle with whole staff gatherings. Either some can’t see the point of 100 teachers in one meeting or how to structure communication in smaller groups. Scrap the staff meeting concept entirely and rethink how things need to get done. One school took a whole staff day to do compliance training for First Aid while another did this across the year in smaller groups thus freeing up more time to focus on core business of building growth and capacity of teachers which struggles to get enough time as it is.

The best was timetabled PD. One 60 minute period a week for all staff built into their weekly timetable. The good thing about a timetable is it is guaranteed to come around every week or 10 days depending on your TT structure. The other good thing was it was done in isolation but in a small group or team structure meeting.  This allows for REAL work to be done on the curriculum when you bring a group together who have their teaching classes in common. Teachers who complain about never having enough time to program, this approach fixes this one but also embeds learning and growth for teachers and learning from each other.


Other things can be added to this structure like sharing PD, talking about assessment tasks, integrating course content across KLA areas, analysing NAPLAN or data tools to better inform practice, giving each feedback and the list goes on. Professional readings, analysing student samples of work and provoking a conversation about this, feedback on leaning walks or lesson observations etc etc.

It became clear as I reflected on my major learnings from the day that:

  • Building team approach to learning is a crucial and strategic ingredient for a whole school transforming to GREAT because it requires leadership, planning and at the end of a day structural ingredients crucial for success;
  • The LEADERS are crucial and require more than ONE. Great leaders build leadership in others so when you visit a school and you see multiples of people speak to you and they are all impressive leaders/teachers then the change management process has worked. This can only assist communication because in time some of your best teachers TRANSFORM into your outstanding members of your leadership team.
  • Professional Development is KEY. I have already mentioned this one but it appears the GREAT schools have quickly/already worked this one out. Put all other nice distractions in schools like sport, excursions, speech days, external exams and competitions etc behind EMBEDDED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT TIME FOR teachers. When your school does everything else but then struggles to find time for colloboration then you know teachers are going struggle to find time to learn and do everything that GREAT schools require.
  • Once you have PD time and the LEADERS in place then a big part of the battle is over  because the structure is in place to build the culture and the communication and feedback mechanisms to become a GREAT school for the students.

Some schools and teachers think you need great kids, really bright, high achievers to become outstanding but at the end of the day my experience and journey in the schools I visit for my own growth and leadership is the exact opposite.  GREAT schools begin with leaders who have a vision to push the boundaries and place learning front and centre of everything at the core for each student.

Let me use the example of DATA in schools. This sometimes gets a bad wrap especially around testing or NAPLAN time of the year.  In reality all leaders know DATA is crucial when it forms part of a conversation around tracking student growth. But where in the school day do you factor time in for teachers to have a conversation about data?  On a Monday afternoon for 30 minutes once year? In a faculty meeting once a term? In a leadership meeting as one bullet point on an overcrowded agenda?

It then follows that GREAT teachers is the next crucial ingredient for success.  This makes the argument for schools embedding ongoing weekly time for teacher communcication because ultimately this time is an investment in GROWTH and building GREAT teachers!

Professional Growth Models

Reading the recently released horizon report from @aitsl revealed some really interesting examples of how countries and schools are dealing with professional learning within schools.

One of the models that many would be familiar with is the PBL framework in the High Tech High School system within the USA.  It is interesting to read the huge and intense professional learning model for teachers built into this very successful high school learning framework described in the AITSL report.

The Integrated Model of Learning

In High Tech High in San Diego, California, USA, project–based learning (PBL) is a radical and highly disciplined pedagogy practised by all teachers across all subjects and age groups. Teachers in High Tech High engage in sustained and formal professional learning, including:

half a day every fortnight spent in workshops delivered by specialists from a field, often outside education;
participation in a study group of their choice, which meets every two weeks and is required to deliver output of use to the whole staff;
• the annual summer school – called the Odyssey – that inducts new teachers and refreshes existing ones.
There is also a state accredited teacher education and leadership academy attached to the school.

Performance and development are characterised in High Tech High by close analysis and critique of student work and outcomes data, both in peer groups and one to one with a mentor. Similarly plans for new projects are scrutinised and critiqued, a quality assurance process incentivised and moderated by the simple fact of all teacher developed resources being made available online, on an open source basis.
This accumulation of consistent, high visibility, high value engagement makes professional learning and performance and development ubiquitous in High Tech High. As one teacher told us “every day is a development day.”

Raising the performance stakes considerably is the one year contract on which High Tech High engages teachers. Each May, based on progress made by their students and feedback from their peers and mentor, teachers learn whether or not they will be employed for another year at the school.
High Tech High receives hundreds of applications and has not had to advertise for teachers for years

There appears to be a very strong and disciplined pedagogical approach that is consistently applied across the whole school by all teachers working within this model.  The PD framework certainly adds plenty of meat on the bones to support teachers in the implementation of this model to students.

I have been keenly following Parramatta Marist, a Catholic Marist high school within the Diocese of Parramatta, here in Sydney Australia that has been implementing PBL school wide across the past 6 or 7 years in their school.  The school has achieved great success with their PBL model that I believe is heavily based on the High Tech High model. Many of the ingredients for success I read, hear about and see in schools like New Tech and Parramatta Marist in this case study appears to be built upon:

  1. Strong and Effective Pedagogical leadership that provides the mechanism to allow consistency of approach and methodology across all subjects within the school;
  2. Reframing of traditional assessment of learning to include greater focus on real world integration of learning projects to enable all students to easily link the “outside or real” world to the classroom;
  3. Strong use of student feedback and inclusion in this learning and teaching model to empower and enable the learner (student) to take greater responsibility for their own learning in the process;
  4. Restructuring of learning environments and timetables to allow greater focus on all students working collaboratively in groups producing new knowledge;
  5. And arguably one of the most important ingredients is the amount professional learning time that is allocated, but also built in to teachers daily work to prepare and plan for the PBL model to be successfully implemented in the school.

The message is change takes time to implement in any school but within the High Tech High PBL model there is great expectation but also great investment in the teacher.  School leaders at  Parramatta Marist have obviously absorbed learnt this from many visits to San Diego as well as the Hattie visible learning research about the effect size of the role the teacher makes and their successful model reveals to the education community that proper investment in teachers will bring a huge return for students.  There is also very strongly held accountabilities of the teacher performance in these schools.  The American model is an interesting one with annual contracts in the High Tech High system.  I think this would be similar to many top tier private schools in Australia that have teachers on 2-3 year contract and renewal process.

We are wrestling with some of these issues in my school as we debate the many competing interests for time in the school day and how we allocate appropriate time to enable teachers to grow in their jobs and become the excellent, continuously improving leaders of learning that our students today demand.  

What is certainly clear is that AITSL is doing a great job of providing worlds best practice to Australian school leaders evidence like the horizon report that show many schools are pushing beyond the boundaries of what we have defined as “typical” in schools for too long.  I will be taking my learning gained here from reading this report across a holiday weekend and share it with my colleagues about the imperative for continuous  “relearning”.
Those famous words of futurist Alvin Toffler spring to my mind.

  

No Progress Without Struggle

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I was reading this great quote on Twitter recently @Primary_ed posted and it got me thinking about the expectations we have in schools about the academic standards we set for our students. How much do we expect of our students? How far do we extend the students in our care? Do we set high enough standards? What are the base line indicators for the work that we accept in the form of homework, assignments and in class? How do we know when the work presented is acceptable? Teachers who have been teaching long enough know the answers to most of these questions but I doubt if they would all have the same responses.

One of the common denominators on this topic is the fact that learning requires effort and that nothing worthwhile comes easy – this is the ‘No Progress Without Struggle’ part of the equation. Students who are successful at school work hard at it; some might be smart but there is a lot of time and perspiration put into it as well and I’m starting to think we need to be very clear with the high expectations we set for our students in our schools.

What can schools do?

1. All teachers set HIGH and very clear expectations about the standard of work to be submitted. When work is not of sufficiently high standard students need to be told, the feedback part,and given the chance to resubmit or not progress to the next level of proficiency.

2. Strong pattern of study and home learning schedule is crucial. Patterns need to be established especially in the early too middle years of schooling so students are giving time too learning outside of school hours. Just like music practice or swimming or tennis training commitment to preparation and building a solid skill set is crucial for student success.

3. Build Strong Parent Partnerships. Parents are crucial to ensuring their children succeed. Parents provide the support at home that students need especially as the academic and time demands increase in high school. Parents can also support their children as they provide the role models their child needs in their struggle with learning. Do they regularly see their parents read at home? Have their parents studied or are currently studying? Do they see their parents needing to make sacrifices to get work done at home?

4. Present real world examples to current students of those who have gone before them and are succeeding in their chosen fields whatever they may be. Present Old Boy or Old Girls at Academic or Cultural Assemblies and let students hear them talk about what it took for them to achieve their dreams. The more authentic the better!!

The Bottom Line

You need to build a culture of excellence if you want a GREAT school. Great schools are all about excellence and excelling everyday in every way. Students need to hear and see this as they walk the grounds of their school. Teachers also need to believe they are also working in a great school. Teachers are crucial and also a big part of the solution in this equation!

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.