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.

 

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.

  

Student Wellbeing and Learning

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Our School like many schools invest time in researching best practice and reviewing our learning and wellbeing models we offer to our students and parents.  We have spent the past 3-4 years focussed on research based evidence looking into learning and wellbeing for our students.  We have been building our own model of learning drawing on best practice from the field.  Just to namedrop two people most reading this may or may not be aware leading this discussion in Australia and the world are Professor John Hattie and Professor Donna Cross.  Hattie is giving us the data and evidence informed discussion and Donna Cross has helped us with the social, and emotional resilience building capacity of our students.  There’ll be a PhD later for someone to write up of our journey meanwhile………this has been and continues to be a long journey for the school, arguably longer than if the school had made the decision to purchase a ONE learning model off the shelf and dedicate the resources into training and then implementing this model in the classroom.

But this is no guarantee either of success with implementing change, especially when it comes to change in the field of education.  I have been in a school that once used Habits of Mind as it’s guiding pedagogical philosophy and upon entry to the school all new staff were given a Habits of Mind training manual to read of over 500 pages.  Needless to say as the original people who brought it into the school left, little was left of the program because all staff had not engaged and adopted the change in practices being called upon. Just posters on walls and manuals in the library handed to new staff!!

So the gradual, build it yourself model we’ve adopted has it’s place and reveals many characteristics for staff and school leaders along the way like resilience, persistence, collaboration, frustration, and failure that we ask of our students everyday to experience at school.  It has been exhilarating not having all the answers whilst also frustrating for many who want to have all the answers to the many questions our model of learning is throwing forth.  So we are now as a school getting closer to the end point of research, discussion and consultation and modification over the period to formalise our beliefs and implement our ideas through action and school programs.

We call our model LIBERATE.

Liberate Model of Student Wellbeing

Within our model there are 4 major pillars for effective wellbeing:

1. Resilience of the Learner

2. Social Capital for the students

3. Healthy and Safe Environments for all

4. Quality Teaching provided.

We have had large numbers of staff working as iLeaders (teachers of pedagogy/design with reduced class loads) for the past 3-4 years working across all faculties developing the capacity and programs of all departments to implement Liberate and build greater consistency and school frameworks across all area.  Stage 4 units have been our starting point initially and all units are organised in sections that match the components of the Liberate model.  Like many schools some departments have pushed ahead quicker and Liberate has already moved into Stage 5 and 6 programs.

Naturally the ‘sub components’ overlap and can apply to several if not all the pillars. For example ‘Positive Relationships’ ties closely to building resilience – ‘having supportive relationships especially with family members and peers’.  The same component also applies to ‘Social Capital’ – ‘networks of trust, responsibility, and support that exist between members of a group’.  Much like learning rubrics every department has one which is different or unique but the broad outline and shape is consistent.

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​For ease of progression we have put the components most closely associated with each pillar under that pillar.  Please keep in mind that they would apply across all 4.

Each of the sections is divided into parts to help develop your understandings.

1. Prior Knowledge: Each starts with asking you about  your Prior knowledge.  It is important to list some samples so that others can gain a deeper understanding of what it means to various people who do this course.

2. Definition/s: Each sections contains a definition of the component or pillar according to an expert in the field.  We also add descriptions of how we see it in this school.

3. Expert in the field:  Where possible we have included and world wide expert who shares their views on the component.  Hopefully you will see that this model is based on research and views or leaders in the education field globally.  It is a framework for good teaching practice.

4. Definition in practice -Where possible we have included short video samples of either students in action, their thoughts or the thoughts of practitioners who are applying the Liberate model.  You can see a sample clicking on the link above.

5. Liberate pointers:  We have listed the most appropriate pointers in the hope of creating a shared understanding of the types of skills, action, environment qualities and leadership qualities that would apply in each component.

6. Research and links: Finally we have included links to quality research for each component.  This is by no means a definitive list but does offer some background and extension reading should you require it.

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We’re not finished still plenty to do but many many positives to come out of this process of continual learning and growth for the school for parents, teachers and students as we move forward into our next planning cycle 2015-18.

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.