Thursday, 7 September 2017

Being observed in the classroom is a professional expectation but it can also be instrumental in a coaching conversation.

If we want to create a coaching culture where we build the capacity of our colleagues, we need to approach classroom observations with no judgment. Peer observations have been used in education for many years but it can push some educators out of their comfort zone. Therefore, it is imperative to have a partnership approach based on trust and respect. Classroom observations can also be onerous, costly and time consuming. This blogpost will provide some suggestions and options when conducting classroom observations. It is important to identify that these classroom observations are not implemented for performance management but with the intention of teacher professional growth.

When I began my teaching career in California, I asked my daughter to record my lessons, my students and my classroom. Our children did not attend my school, so when our school holidays varied, it was an opportunity for my children to help out in my classroom.  My Grade One students enjoyed having older children in the classroom and it was great for them to meet my children. 
Flip Camera used in 2007.

Back then, we used a Flip Camera, as it was simple and affordable. On one occasion, my daughter recorded an English lesson that consisted of me reading a mentor text to my students. While reading, I implemented think aloud’ to demonstrate various comprehension strategies. The purpose of recording the lesson was for me to look at myself from the student’s perspective and take ownership of my dialogue and actions. From the review of my recording, I noticed it was more of a monologue, than a dialogue.

As an early career teacher I acknowledged I had a lot to learn. Knowing this was liberating, as I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from learning from others. It is accepted that new teachers should absorb all they can from observations, other educators and resources. With the goal of improving, I originally made the videos for personal use. After viewing myself on numerous recordings, I believe I was more comfortable being observed by my supervisor. This was a requirement of Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment when seeking accreditation in California. 

'The greatest effects on student learning occur when the teachers become learners of their own teaching’ (Hattie, 2009, p.12).

A great way to become familiar with using video for reflection, is to record yourself. If you don’t have access to various independent recording devices,  ask a colleague or student to record a section of your lesson. Asking others to record or observe a one hour lesson is quite onerous, but recording small components makes observing less demanding. I have found recording segments of lessons aligns very well with incremental coaching.

As a professional learning coach, I really value the use of recording teaching lessons. It provides me with the opportunity to sit alongside the teacher to observe their lesson. Recording a lesson has many benefits-

     * Provides the coachee with the option to approve the viewing of the lesson prior.
      * Provides the coachee ownership
      * Provides a point of reference for a collaborative discussion
      * Allows one to pause the recording to discuss various aspects of the lessons
      * Provides a more objective approach to the observation
      * Can easily rewind if anything is missed or needs reviewing
      *A snapshot of one’s teaching to determine growth and improvement
      * Students see the teacher as a learner

I have recorded teachers’ lessons using an iPad and I have also used Swivl. A coaching session may happen before or after the coachee’s lesson is recorded. This decision is determined by the coachee and their goal. Using our school observation proforma, a coachee can determine an area of focus before the observation. At times, it has been sufficient and effective to record only a 10-minute segment. Watching the video together, using the observation proforma creates rich discussion and opportunities for further coaching conversations.

Coaching generally is defined as a process where the coach facilitates self-directed learning to enhance teacher development, by questioning, active listening and creating a supportive environment (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012).

Being observed can be viewed by some as a ‘tick the box’ process. However, if provided with the opportunity to own the process, observations can generate rich conversations between a coach and a coachee. If a teacher records their own lessons consistently and at incremental periods, self-reflection and self-awareness is likely to increase. Utilised prior or after an observation coaching is not about telling teachers they need to improve or how to improve. A coach, through questioning, actively listening and challenging the coachee in a supportive and encouraging environment, facilitates self directed learning of the teacher (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012). Coaching allows teachers to take responsibility for their choices and provides teachers with agency or autonomy in their educational context.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. London: Routledge.
van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2012). An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide. London: Sage.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Blurring the Lines

Some people in education maintain that we need work-life balance. I understand this concept if one doesn't feel in control of their workload or environment or has to ‘stick it out’ for various reasons. However, the lines between my work and play were blurred many years ago and I make no apologies for this. My teaching experiences started in 2007, so compared to some, I don't have decades of experience. I've even been told that I'm still early in my career so my enthusiasm and passion is to be expected. Honestly, I may be naive but right now, combining my professional and personal lives works for me. Since returning back to Australia 7 years ago, many of my educator friends have simply become my friends. 

This trip was planned so I could visit England to spend time with my daughter. She is working at a school in Crawley but her holidays begin two weeks after our holidays start. Arriving on a Sunday morning, I was given a tour of her school as all students were away. My daughter is on a gap year and plans to study psychology when she returns to Australia next year. We now talk about teaching and education on another level. 

On Monday I made my way from Crawley to Walthamstow by train & the Tube as I planned to stay at my cousin's place for the week. I downloaded the 'Citymapper' app and felt confident with my ability to go anywhere in London. I remembered how difficult the system was twenty years ago. You had to plan, look at train lines, times, platform numbers, transfers… now it's so easy. I can be spontaneous which I love. That's my favourite way of travelling. Nothing too planned and organised as sometimes you miss out on opportunities that arise. While I hadn't seen my cousin for twenty years (my last visit to London) we had some good conversations (he is a psychoanalyst). When I arrived, he took me to lunch at a Turkish restaurant, which was a new experience for me. That night we ate, laughed and caught up.

On Tuesday I headed off to the British Museum and British Library. No matter where I am or what I am learning about, I always look at it from an educator's perspective. Viewing the ball rolling clock I thought of various ways it could be used to engage students, peak their curiosity or be the provocation n maths, history or English. That evening, I met with Christian van Niewenburgh and we talked about our regular topics of coaching, education, professional learning and my doctorate but we also talked about our families. Professional conversations can meander into personal life as often they intertwine. 

Wednesday evening I was invited to ‘Learning to Thrive’ hosted by the Innovation Unit with Valerie Hannon and others. It began with a diverse panel who each presented for 10 minutes. Following this was a Q & A and finally a group conversation based on certain topics or case studies. This format worked! I heard from education journalists, academics, researchers etc…it was a very diverse group but a group with the same vision. We need to work together to create any change. Some concepts discussed were determining purpose and focus, while seeing the value of creating structures so more can contribute to society through social agency. 

Thursday I found myself at ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill’ with David Price. This is something I would not normally attend but I decided I would take every opportunity offered on this trip. Audra McDonald was amazing as Billie Holiday. As I sat and listened, I thought of my dad and how much he would have enjoyed being there. As Londoners do, David and I had a cup of tea afterwards and chatted about the show and David provided some insight into my trip to Ireland. 

He also suggested a walk around Covent Gardens before meeting up with Vivienne Porritt from #WomenEd. Vivienne and I talked for hours over dinner proving to me that the connections you make on Twitter can be the start of some wonderful professional relationships and friendships. I shared some thoughts about the professional learning process, only to have Vivienne not only agree but offering evidence to support my ideas. We both agreed that the work of Tom Guskey is an untapped resource when evaluating professional learning.

Friday I had the boring task of washing, so I began reflecting on my week with this blog post. Later, my cousin and I went to the Tate Modern and I found myself spending most of my time observing the photographs 'From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried' 1995-6 by American artist Carrie Mae Weems (highly personal history of the African American experience). We then walked along the River Thames and met a friend in Soho. It was Friday afternoon and the pubs were overflowing with people standing and drinking outside the pubs. The energy in the streets, bars, restaurants was amazing. We then dined in China town and soaked up the positive atmosphere I’ve found in London. 

On June 14, a fire broke out just after midnight in Grenfell Tower, a 24-story public housing project. On Saturday, I viewed the shell of that building. I stood with others, speechless. Looking at the posted notices of people missing, lost pets, flowers laid, and the notes of love and sadness. We stood in silence. From the site, my cousin dropped me off to my hotel in Bayswater, where I was meeting my eldest children. Being tourists with my children was wonderful, hilarious and exhausting but as they are both are online, I will not share our memorable moments (boundaries & respect).

Later that weekend I received a response from the University of Melbourne that my application for a Doctorate of Education was unsuccessful. I had been waiting six months, hoping to transfer my work from University of Wollongong to Melbourne. I advised my proposed Melbourne advisors and they too were disappointed. While this research is important to me, I was reminded this week of keeping things in perspective. I may have to find another path to research coaching and education, but my network of family and friends continue to support me. I may blur the lines of work and play, but I think because of this, I am encouraged by others to move forward. It was recently announced that I have been elected as one of the ACEL executives for NSW. I am very humbled by the continued support of others.

                                    Closed doors, 
open windows...

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Looking for Leadership?

Where do you gain or develop your skills and knowledge as a leader? Recently asked what are the requirements for being a leader, I spent the week thinking…
  • Is it being accredited as Highly Accomplished or Lead teacher?
  • Is it because you have a Masters in Leadership or Education?
  • Is it based on your ‘acting’ experiences?
  • Are you expected to have a certain number of years of teaching experience?

At Harvard, I learnt that there is an accreditation process to become a principal in the US. I wondered about this accreditation process and the principals I knew in Australia. Does an accreditation process prepare you for leadership? In 2015, I became accredited as Experienced Teacher (AIS) through the standards-based pathway. I viewed my evidence (programs, assessment, data, etc), aligned them to the standards, indicating that I met the benchmark. I can honestly say that there was not much ‘learning’ taking place through this process. While I became more familiar with the Australian Teaching Standards, I was proving that my work met particular standards. I didn’t create or research anything new but simply aligned my evidence to the standards.

Recently I spent a day learning how to use action research as a pathway to Experienced Teacher (ISTAA). After working on my PhD last year, I think I have a solid understanding of the process of action research. I did learn how to use the digital portfolio and upload the evidence. This was helpful but what resonated with me throughout the day was the learning and growth that action research could provide. The learning happens throughout the entire process. I worry that the standards-based accreditation is a tick-the-box-process. The process is not focused on professional growth but about proving that you are ‘proficient, experienced, accomplished, or a lead’ teacher.  But the action research was more about improving yourself through learning. It centred around learning to improve students' learning experiences. We listened to someone who went through the process last year and he talked about it being messy, overwhelming and at times, stressful. He also mentioned that he believes he learnt more going through this path than aligning the standards with his evidence. I learnt that if your action research is approved it will be credited towards a Masters in Education. Yet the accreditation process does not recognise any previous postgraduate study.

Postgraduate Study
I have a Masters in Education but did not conduct a research project. I wrote a 10, 000 word literature review, which was an enlightening professional experience. In hindsight, I wish I had completed a research project. I think it is unfortunate that a teacher’s salary is solely based on accreditation and not professional and personal growth. When you undertake postgraduate study or research, your focus in on learning and improving. Accreditation is focused on proving yourself. But I see the action research path differs. Do you think having a Masters in Education/Leadership is more valued than a certain level of accreditation? 

Years of Experience
Does experience hold value in schools? If one is ‘acting’ in the leadership role, does that reflect the school’s view of being appropriately qualified or an appropriate substitute? Is there a set pathway to leadership? Is context a huge variable? I’ve heard a second year teacher share how he wanted to be a principal. Only later to hear others say that he needs to be in the classroom for at least 10 years first. I asked someone (not in education), what he thought was a pre-requisite for being an educational leader. He responded with, ‘wouldn’t someone with 20 years experience in the classroom be a good indicator?’ Does an effective teacher make an effective leader? I don’t believe these are synonymous. I once worked in an industry where you worked your way up the ladder. Your years of experience reflected your power in the workplace. When people became manager, they believed they had the right to have the best car space, make all the decisions, and their requests were always the priority. I remember my parents saying that it was character building and said it taught me to respect those with more experience. I do respect those with more experience but in my opinion, leadership is not about power but empowering. I sought others' opinions about leadership on Twitter.

Twitter Poll

If you surround yourself with leaders, both inspiring and those not so inspiring, you create your beliefs about leadership. Over the past ten years, my view of leadership has really been shaped by role models, reading literature, experiences and discussions. For me, a leader does not expect people to blindly follow. An effective leader is a builder. They build -
  • the culture, the climate and the capacity of their team
  • relationships and the self-efficacy of their team
  • and establish trust
To me, a leader is delighted when someone in his or her team has been successful. A leaders sends someone from their team (instead of themselves) to a conference or course to build their capacity. These are only examples, as I know leadership encompasses much more, including high levels of emotional intelligence. 

Courses, study, accreditation, and experience can all contribute to being an effective leader.
However, the one thing I’ve learnt and truly believe is leadership is not about proving yourself but improving yourself and your team. The leaders I aspire to be are those who care more about the big picture, the team and their community. Do we look for leadership potential in others? Do we build the capacity of others for leadership? Do we value personal and professional growth? 

I don’t have the answers but sometimes it’s worth asking the question- 
What are the best qualifications and skills required for leadership?

Always asking questions...

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Raise Me Up

It’s been one year since I began assisting @BrionyScott to organise the Renaissance Women Leaders' Network (#RWLN) and our past presenters are an amazing group of generous leaders. I place these women high on a pedestal, as I have the utmost respect for them because of their passion, empathy, wisdom, experience, and their willingness to build the capacity of others. They stand above; they stand out; they stand up. Some may argue that putting people up on a pedestal is not ideal, but this is what I have experienced.

Dr Nicole Archard, Jan Owen AM, Dr Briony Scott,
Christine Nixon APM & Lucy Clark.
When you hold people at a higher level, they will either raise you up to meet them or not. When I conversed with our female presenters from our last year- @NicoleArchard @JanOwenAM @chrisnixon1852 @lucykateclark, they all raised me up. They are genuine, down-to-earth, empathetic and generous. When I am in their company, they make me feel I can do more, be more and help others more. While the moment and feeling may dissipate, I know I have the capacity to rise to a higher level.

While they are all leaders in various fields, they have common traits.  

As I mentioned, when you hold people at a higher level, they will either raise you up to meet them at that level ... or not. I have also experienced the not. If it weren’t for another person who witnessed our conversation, I would probably have thought I misheard or misinterpreted. Regardless, that experience showed me that not all leaders are at the point in their career or willing to build the capacity of others. It was good for me to have this experience, as I value those generous leaders more. So when you have the opportunity to connect, learn and be in the presence of the leaders who raise you up, appreciate the moment. Surround yourself with people who have a positive influence and reach out to those who have the qualities you value. It's well worth the time and effort. 

The next #RWLN is 18 May with the amazing @chriscawsey. Please register for this complimentary event here. 

The learning continues...