Saturday, 5 October 2019

Climbing the Bridge

This week I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Professor Alma Harris. It appears to be developing into a tradition. In 2016, I climbed the bridge with my friend Peter DeWitt. With perfect weather, we even spotted dolphins in the harbour. Peter wrote about his adventures and shared how new learning can be intimidating, whether it takes place in a instant or over a long period of time

🎵  Thunderbolt and lightning,
Very, very frightening me   🎵
Earlier this year, Andy Hargreaves and I attempted to climb the bridge at night, only to experience a thunderstorm. Stuck in a holding pattern under the noisy road/train platform, with many we waited for the green light. This never eventuated. This was not what I had planned.
While I felt awful that Andy didn’t climb the bridge that night, lightning and the world’s largest steel arch bridge is not a good combination. It was more disappointing than frightening. Although Andy never ascended, we had a wonderful conversation over those hours of waiting; an opportunity few rarely get to experience.

Andy’s attempt must have inspired Alma. As Alma was keynoting at the ACEL conference, we booked our climb a few months back. All week I checked the weather and while the day started with sunshine and blue skies, it abruptly changed. We encountered strong winds, which at times were recorded around 48 km/h. The weather, while not perfect, did not take away from the scenic views and engaging conversation.

From various experiences, I always attempt to learn something new from the situation or learn from others. I’ve been thinking about people who face their fears and push themselves out of their comfort zone. At this time of year, many educators are considering new roles, new positions and new schools or organisations. While scary and also exciting, having a balance of both is ideal. How I'm feeling about my new role at Growth Coaching International has been been asked often this week. While I'm quite confident in my knowledge and experience, no one ever works in isolation. I am reminded of what Michael Fullan shared at the ACEL conference: “While you bring your expertise, in a new context you are also the apprentice”. Like everything in education, context and relationships are key! Your context consists of different people and personalities, a unique culture and community and most likely a comprehensive history. Without knowing the history, how can you impact the future?

While Alma and I ascended the bridge, our tour guide provided us with the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. While interesting, the part that resonated most with me was how the chief engineer of the bridge, JJC Bradfield had amazing foresight. After being inspired by Hell’s Gate Bridge in New York, Bradfield and his team designed and constructed the Bridge with 6 lanes of traffic (now 8), a railway, two tramlines (now none), a cycleway and a pedestrian walkway, in a city that was only populated by 1.2 million. Remember it opened in 1932 after 8 years of construction. This is truly remarkable. Bradfield planned so well for the future. I worry that politicians, policy makers and some in leadership positions are looking for short term benefits, and not focusing on the future. They want instant achievement, results and recognition. I read this article from Sydney Morning Herald and again, we are being told by experts how to ‘fix and improve teaching to lift student performance’.  A few brief points shared:
  • The expectations and responsibilities for teachers are ever increasing and no one seems to be addressing this issue.
  • More time, research and conversations need to be had with teachers, leaders and principals (not surveys but real discussions).
  • Less face to face teaching would allow time for teachers to reflect, research & refine their teaching.
  • School culture is also an important component. Programs don’t work without addressing the context. Similar to the accreditation process; your experience depends on your leaders, school, state & sector. 
  • While it may cost more initially, the long-term benefits of coaching and mentoring appear promising.
  • Once money and power are involved, more competition and less collaboration will result. Distribute the funding to all teachers, with the 'instructional leaders' having a significantly decreased teaching load. 
  • It’s important to note that the most effective teachers do not always result in the most effective coaches. Coaching is another skill required, in addition to teaching.
  • With some leaving the classroom, is it more expensive to train new teachers, or invest in the practising teachers?
  • Being paid more to go to rural schools is a short-term solution. Rural teachers need more money, more support & more resources, with online coaching being an option. Our students deserve more consistency in regard to teachers.
  • Teachers need to feel valued, supported and respected. 

Let's build bridges

I think the first 'easy' thing to do is to speak with the teachers, leaders and principals and visit classrooms. Listening to the student panel at ACEL conference reaffirmed my belief that student voice is essential. A better understanding is needed and this can only be developed with strong, authentic and inclusive conversations.

Always questioning and wondering...

Comments welcome 

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