Saturday, 19 May 2018

Celebrate the Collective

Earlier this week I attended Renaissance Women Leaders’Network and it was nearly a year ago that I had contacted Dr Kirstin Ferguson to invite her to be our guest presenter. I had watched and followed Kirstin on Twitter @kirstinferguson recognising that she is a woman that is making a difference. The evidence lies with #CelebratingWomen and her new book 'Women Kind', coming in September. At #RWLN, I finally got to meet Kirstin in real life. You connect with people on Twitter and while you may catch a glimpse of their life or personality online, when you meet in person, the connection becomes authentic and personal. Enthusiastic, energetic and empowering are three words I would use to describe Kirstin. While Kirstin is inspiring and her achievements amazing, I’ve been wondering about keynote speakers and their effectiveness in the professional learning realm of education. Upon reflection, Kirstin's presentation provided some clarification for me. Keynotes can inspire and if you are fortunate, they can also provoke questions, promote reflection, and inevitably develop self-awareness. The days following this event, I also focused on the questions posed by Kirstin for #celebratingwomen. 

What did you want to do at school?
In primary school, I wanted to choreograph ballet. In high school, being a teacher was my goal. It wasn't until I had few other careers, that I finally became a teacher.

What are 3 words to describe your life to date
Evolving, Ever-changing, Connected

Who do you hope to inspire, and why? 
While I don’t view myself as inspirational, I do hope my story helps others realise that if you are passionate and dedicated, you can achieve.  And if you are fortunate to have support, embrace it and be appreciative.

How would you describe what it is that you do? 
I create opportunities where educators feel empowered to build their teaching and leadership capacity. 
Part of my role is to organise the placement of practicum students and this week, a very experienced teacher and a first-year student teacher shared with me some activities they had collaboratively created. The experienced teacher had previously implemented sketchnoting into her history classes, after Tracey Ezard introduced it at our professional learning day. She kept me updated on her use of sketchnoting and recently introduced and explained the concept to her student teacher. By the end of the week, both we excited to share their students’ work. Accompanying these sketchnotes were smiles and a sense of satisfaction. We had a conversation about visible learning and the importance of not focusing on artistic talent. While colour and pictures may be aesthetically pleasing, the purpose of sketchnoting is to develop the ability to visually interpret information that may assist with student learning.

Their passion for teaching history and introducing sketchnoting to their students was evident in their speech, facial expressions and actions. The conversation later turned to the tech tools of KahootSocrative and the historical knowledge and experience of the highly accomplished teacher. This was collaboration at its best! Respectful and appreciative for what each other brings to the table, this team has collective efficacy. Collective Teachers' Efficacy (CTE) refers to the staff's shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged and/or disadvantaged. This reaffirmed that very experienced teachers have much to offer preservice teachers and vice versa. When teachers share their strengths, respect the collaborative process, and focus on a common purpose (improved student outcomes), we all benefit. 

Whether the collective are women, teachers, leaders or students, having a common purpose is central.

 Always learning...

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Principal, The Leader, The Teacher

I’ve been thinking a lot about teachers, leaders, principals and their specific roles in the context of growing accountability and the pressure to extend their impact beyond the growth of their students to the success of an entire education system. Today we are asking way too much of all those in the career of educating students. How can society expect individual teachers to effectively perform in already highly demanding positions? It is a complex system of curriculum, pastoral, technological, socio-cultural, economic and political demands. All these demands of the present in order to meet the possible requirements of the future. Then to be questioned why the education of our students isn’t ranked as ‘best-performing’ in the world. I have concerns about ranking countries, schools and students as each context is unique. It is vital to identify, acknowledge and accept the importance of 'context'. Schools are ever-changing and continuously challenging, with mastery of all demands of the present in order to meet the possible requirements of the future, being an illusion.

The Principal 
I personally do not know many educators who aspire to be Principals. I wonder if it is because in the Australia of 2018 they need to masters of so many areas. Knowledgeable and experience in various areas, such as-
  • curriculum
  • instruction
  • assessment
  • data
  • student wellbeing
  • teacher wellbeing
  • legal obligations
  • policies & procedures
  • technology
  • community relations and consultation
  • effective and ethical governance structures

These are represented professionally and to great depth in the Professional Standards for Principals. The expectations and the qualities of a principal in a rural school would need to be aligned with the needs of that school. I question how contextualised experiences can prepare a leader in one school to become a principal in another. I’m not saying it isn’t possible but providing better support for those who want to become a principal appears to be lacking. This should become a priority when reviewing our education system. In the ideal situation, all aspiring leaders would be given opportunities to explore these ‘generic’ leadership skills whilst also developing a mindset that allows them to lead in a significantly different cultural context. Or should people only ever aspire to teach in similar schools throughout their career?

The Leader
I have blogged about 'Looking for Leadership', and in my role as professional learning coach, many people have asked for advice. After several years of classroom practise (or perhaps sooner), educators often ask should they-
  1. Complete a Master in Educational Leadership
  2. Become accredited as a Highly Accomplished Teacher or LEAD Teacher
  3. Move schools in the hope that someone may leave or that a leadership position may open up
  4. Apply to non-school based education organisations

New roles are being created each year in schools and in my opinion, these roles are being created because teachers need more support. They can't be experts in all areas. A Master in Education postgraduate degree will cost approximately $26 000. With the aim of increasing knowledge, most teachers take 3-4 years to complete their Masters. The cost and the time could create additional stress for full-time classroom teachers. There are some key aspects of modern school leadership that these credentials address (e.g. organisational psychology and relevant legal frameworks/expectations) but, as with all credentials, simply completing the course does not a leader make.

Regarding Highly Accomplished Teacher accreditation, I have learnt from others that the average educator takes between 2-5 years to complete and the success rate is around 50%. Apparently, currently there are about 470 HAT & Lead teachers in Australia. The remuneration for becoming accredited varies between sectors. In my opinion, many of the descriptors for HAT & Lead require you to have a leadership opportunity to collect evidence. By creating specific projects, I know of one school that provides opportunities for their staff to do this. I wonder if every school is in a position to accomplish this? Some may hope that becoming accredited at this level will open more leadership opportunities. Although, my understanding of the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher accreditation is to keep high quality teachers in the classroom. 
For these HATs and Leads to be fully utilised in a school context (and to maintain their accreditation) they’d need a role that allows them to affect the practice of other educators either at their school (HAT) or beyond their school (Lead) in a wide variety of areas. Will this mean a splitting of pedagogical and administrative roles between HATs/Leads (pedagogical) and Heads of Department (administrative) within the same Stage or subject area? What is the most effective approach for educators to develop as leaders? 

The Teacher
In my role, I support teachers completing accreditation and at times, I question if the process is taking valuable time away from their teaching for the sake of a administrative process. As accreditation is linked to a band/salary increase, teachers and their supervisors experience an increased workload and additional pressure. With higher expectations, many schools are electing to have an accreditation supervisory role. In the NESA system, the accreditation levels are Proficient and Highly Accomplished/Lead but in the Association of Independent Schools (AIS), there is an Experienced Teacher level that sits in-between. All 37 Experienced Teacher standards need to be demonstrated with documented evidence, annotations, reports, references and mandatory observations. I have blogged about my 'Global Accreditation' processes of ‘jumping through hoops’ in different countries and sectors. Ideally, accreditation should reflect the authentic teaching and the learning moments that happen in the classroom. The process should be centred on teacher growth. Does the outcome of the process for the individual, their supervisor, the school and the system justify the time and effort the process requires? How can we support teacher growth most effectively? 

I recently read an article about how teachers suffer from 'unsustainable' administrative demands. I’m not surprised, as I have asked various teachers why left the classroom. Some left education entirely, while some left the classroom for leadership roles. According to many, the constant demands were never ending. If we want teachers to stay in education and the classroom, we need to provide more support (eg. coaching and mentoring) and remove ineffective processes or design more effective processes that support teacher improvement. 

I have read and commented on Gonski 2.0 Report, which made some recommendations. I personally focused on Chapter 3: Creating, supporting and valuing a profession of expert educators, as it pertains more to my role. My three key takeaways from this chapter were -

1. Be innovative in ways to find more time for teachers to develop their capacity and work more collaboratively.
2. An online progress report is be developed and formative assessment needs to be valued and implemented more within the classroom.
3. Embedding professional collaboration in everyday teaching practice-peer observation, feedback, coaching, mentoring, team-teaching, and joint research projects.

With the Gonski Report and NSW reviewing the curriculum, a complete overhaul of Australia’s education system appears highly likely. For this to be successful, it is vital to include the voices of all those in the education system. Principals, leaders and teachers need to be heard as they are at the forefront. Often, they are not consulted in depth or included in many of the educational decisions made. We need to work together as one with a collective purpose. 

Always asking questions..