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.

 

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!

 

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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!

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.

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.

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.