A Letter for 2019

Dear colleague in 2019,

Farewell and good luck.

What a wonderful three years we have had and how things have changed!

Our focus is now firmly on the student.   No longer is our focus the prescribed curriculum that needs to be covered.  Instead there is a real focus on the individual faces and the needs in each room.   There are still curriculum outcomes that are mandated at a national level but there is an expectation that teams of teachers will design learning units based on class needs, our community and our locality.  

Innovation is valued, rather than stifled as it was in the previous 4 years when under the guise of consistency teachers were expected to follow the same programs despite their students and the changing nature of the world.  We have reached a balance where best practice is balanced with next practice.  Teachers are allowed to experiment and share their learnings, failings and successes.  We celebrate this at a ‘TeachMeet’ forum each month (for the cluster) at which they are encouraged to share what they are doing.  Others get inspiration and know that they are able to try new things.  Teachers regard themselves as designers of curriculum and of learning experiences.   

Engagement matters and teachers understand that this is different to entertainment.   We understand that we need to see a spark in the eye of our most able learners.   We understand that online courses might enable these students to demonstrate their understanding at a rapid pace and then to work on something that extends them.  Teachers value the lessons of emerging research on brain based theories of learning and make attempts to include many of them in learning experiences.  We realise that a misbehaving child might need alternate experiences and we make adjustments to our teaching or seek assistance on how to do this.  Options are explored for how students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. This is done in collaboration with students as we are aware we don’t have all the answers.

We see that empowering our students is important.  We value expertise in a wide range of areas and recognise that creating a breadth of experiences is important if we are to cherish the place we play in creating an environment in which every child can discover their talent/s.  Alongside this, we value the individual talents and passions of our teaching staff and parent body and utilise these in creative ways to provide a forum for children to discover that about which they are passionate.  We are awestruck by the abilities of students and work hard to create opportunities in which they flourish.  

We have realised that personal mobile devices are just a given.  They enable differentiation and personalisation.  It is widely accepted and celebrated that the use of technology levels the playing field for many students and accessibility options are sought out and used.  Technology is valued as it enables students to work in the way the people in the real world work.  The use of technology is also valued as it enables our students to have impact on the world around them.  Our students use technology to be persuasive, creative, and collaborative AND TO MAKE AN IMPACT.

Students publish their work for the world to see. This authentic audience means they enter into the creating, editing and publishing process with so much more interest and energy.  They understand the use of Creative Commons and publish with appropriate licenses whilst respecting the work of others which has been published in the same way.  We also value the place of teacher created digital resources.  A position for 3 days a week enables the creation of digital resources to support learning across the school.

At the same time, the use of technology doesn’t need to be spoken about very much as it is practically invisible.  We are moving towards digital normalisation in all that we do.  Our network is fast and there are few infrastructure issues.  In 2015 and 2016, we realised that we needed to direct funding towards infrastructure rather than hardware as the age of BYO was upon us. Our focus for hardware support has moved from our school owned devices to supporting parents in how to manage the BYO devices.  We work with parents on  regular basis on workshops, digital citizenship issues and other support areas.  BYO has now extended through to Year 2.

Teachers are becoming more comfortable with working alongside students on the use of technology.  They seek their opinions and advice.   They are much more comfortable knowing that they are the designer of learner experiences but that the skills and outlook of students might mean that the path and the outcomes might be different for different students.   We have a role for a teacher creating and  maintaining our school’s  Minecraft server. There is a world for each class and most teachers feel comfortable working with this teacher and seeking his advice on how minecraft can be used to support and extend  learning.

Our work with NoTosh lasted three years and Tom Barrett remains a critical friend as we continue on our journey.  Students now approach tasks with a design thinking mentality.  They are comfortable in the role of problem finders and solution seekers.  Teachers work with the HOC and the Digital Learning Coordinator and with each other to look at the intent of the curriculum and to address this in a personalised and meaningful manner. They appreciate the value of design thinking as an outlook and now appreciate the way that trust in their professional abilities and judgement has been restored.  Literacy and Numeracy blocks remain but the rest of the curriculum is challenge based and inquiry based.

Literacy is no longer a narrowly defined term.  We understand that Digital Literacy, Media Literacy, Information Literacy, Cultural Literacy and Visual Literacy are important and play an essential role in the way our young people will interact with the world.  We have a part-time Digital Literacy Coach in Prep – Year 2.   We also have a part-time Digital Literacy Coach in Yrs 3-6.

Our interaction with STEM is ever evolving and we constantly seek ways to instil outlooks and skills in our students that place them at an advantage in term of STEM and their real world implications.  QUEST Club has evolved so that every class, every year completes an 8 week unit per semester.  As a planning team, we looked at the outcomes met by these units and mapped across the year to ensure that all the National Science and Technology outcomes were met by the end of the year.  Our experience with Design Thinking supported us to do this.  The QUEST teachers work with the teachers on this, ensuring that the unit is prepared and resources are ready.  Then both teachers work together to work on the unit with the students.  In the alternate terms, the QUEST teachers work with a smaller group of students from each year level who have been identified as a result of their QUEST class challenges.

The use of coding has spread from being used only in clubs or enrichment programs to being used across the curriculum by those who wish to use it. We also utilise the skills of a teacher on staff to ensure that advanced programming and robotics is taught on one day a week.  We have finally understood that although coding – the language of computers – is not something we find interesting or comfortable as teachers, it is something that will benefit our students in the future.  This makes it a priority.

Our students in Year 5 and 6 work as a team in term 2 to plan and run a student led conference.   Students from the cluster are invited and experience a range of activities as they work towards the creation of a  film (stream 1) or a website (stream 2) or an iBook (stream 3). During this planning phase, there are teams of students focussed on catering, publicity, financial planning, workshop coordination and celebration, publishing and sharing.  The students engage experts from our community, including parents, teachers and students.  This conference is a one day event.

Our students in Years 4-6 spend one day a week or one day a fortnight on a student directed project in which they are encouraged to have an impact or to leave a legacy.  We provide structured support in the process of inquiry.  There is a modified version of this in Years 1-3.   Students are encouraged towards projects that help our school, its members or our community.  The outcomes are celebrated.  This is our ‘Genius Hour’ or Legacy Time.   Teachers also have their own “Genius Hour” – an hour each week where they are allowed to work on their interest area and develop a learning portfolio.

We have strong links with Cambodia and Mrs Gillet’s mission in this area.      As a school, much of our fundraising is directed towards this goal.  We create strong links between Oakleigh SS and Ms G’s school.  Many students in Year 5 and 6 communicate with students in Cambodia and speak passionately of their desire to visit when in Secondary School. We investigate possibilities in terms of providing this school with our outdated iPads and our community’s outdated iPads and develop plans to assist them with their use.  We focus on supporting them with literacy and enabling the sharing of stories.  We prepare them to send to Cambodia ready with a small number of key apps and some literacy and numeracy apps.  A small group of teachers (along with their own children) volunteer to accompany them in their holiday.

The appearance of classrooms has changed.  After a trial in 2016 in the newly refurbished hall, we used QLD Gov funds to refurbish the main Heritage building to create an increased number of open, double teaching spaces.  Each of these spaces were jointly designed with the teachers and students and incorporated open teaching spaces, flexible spaces and a number of smaller areas enabling small groups to work on recording, green screening etc.  The importance of teaching areas outside the classroom has been realised and multiple ‘outdoor learning environments’ have been established.

The Library – purpose and use – has evolved.  We make use of our experts from our community and run regular workshops for our community of learners.  Students design, tinker, create and share their work.  One day a week, after school, we have a Tinker Club where parents and children come together.  We learn as a community and each shares his/her expertise to assist others.  Parents and students work together and there is an area for work to be displayed.  The focus is on learning together as a community and valuing the skills that evolve throughout the design and creation process.

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