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.

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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!!

 

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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!!

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.

Professional Learning Everyday for the Modern Educator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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