One Step More….

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Photo by Zak Elley on Unsplash

It’s been a while since my last blog entry – 9 months to be exact.   Last year was a difficult year for me on a personal level.   Work also was in a state of flux and reading through my last few blog entries, I am reminded that I was battling to stay positive amidst major changes after a two year journey of leaps, bounds, achievements and the attainment of goals that made me tremendously excited about the journey we were on.  2018 did finish brilliantly,  however – with my family and I heading to Europe on a  4 month long visit.     

Fast forward 9 months.     Where am I now?   I’m at the end of a 2 day conference trip to Melbourne, awaiting my flight to take me home where I will arrive 3 days before we start a new term.  If I’d written this yesterday, at the end of the first day of the conference, I think I would have been writing a similar blog post to what I did a few years ago when I was bemoaning that I was sick of hearing the same messages at these types of events, that I wasn’t seeing any real evidence of change, that the people who set the learning agenda for my state weren’t  concerned about crowded educational agendas  and that the people above me were still having to operate within an environment of red and green data.

But today I got to revisit a few key messages about the value of the real work that we, as innovators,  are all doing in our schools.  Much of this was delivered by Tom Barrett.   A bit of background – as a school, we first engaged with Tom a few years ago at the start of a journey with the use of design thinking to support creativity and inquiry.  Our first steps with this were related to the support of ‘practitioner inquiry’ – we were strategically working towards embedding inquiry learning within our curriculum units and to up-skill our teachers – we had chosen to immerse them in learning which would provide them with insights into the mindset, skillset and toolset of inquiry and design.  We also worked with our leadership team on aspects of strategic inquiry.

During the beginning of  Tom’s keynote he reminded the audience of the work he does within a range of industries – not just within education – and that lessons he has learnt within these other industries often have important learning considerations that can apply to the education context.   He looked at the ‘Theory of Diffusion’ that is often shared with tech leaders and told us that this is something that was originally designed to allow its creator to show how farmers use different types of crops.   He cautioned us against using models like this to label people or to simplify a process which might not be appropriate to represent people.  He added that it is much more likely that people will change at a very slow rate and that technology and innovation will have to change to match people or groups of people.

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When Tom spoke about the nature of Innovation – there were a couple of ideas that really resonated with me in terms of where I find myself now and the state of dissonance through which I am worried I am suffering.  Tom spoke about the idea that innovation compresses and that we must make decisions about what to let go.  This is often necessary in order to free up our time and energy to do new things.  But then at the same time – he spoke about how innovation is often tethered and will rely on things that are already in place and working – things that can be left alone to continue working.

So what is my context right now?  What should I be working on? What should I stop working on? What do I need to appreciate as something that is embedded enough that it can be viewed as the seed to even more exciting innovations?

A feature of my personality seems to be that I am happy operating within a perpetual state of having too much to do.  I get easily excited by new ideas and can not stand the idea of staying still for too long.  I get bored quickly with things that I feel like I’ve mastered or even just started and feel ready to move on easily to something else.  Is the state I find myself now – when I mention suffering through a state of dissonance  – something of my own making?  And if so, is it working to actually hinder my progress in the areas that are the most important to the learners within my community right now? 

So what SHOULD be my areas of focus right now:

We need to focus on the really great work we have been doing that has been going well and to make sure that the momentum is not lost as we move forward.  My major responsibility in terms of learning/curriculum has been the STEAM year level planning.   What has rapidly dawned on me during this planning is that we are doing is so much broader than STEM/STEAM.  STEAM has simply given us a platform to start exploring authentic and connected learning.    It is serving to:

  • reconnect teachers with the intent of the curriculum
  • engage them with finding alignments between areas of the curriculum
  • encourage a deeper understanding of the General Capabilities within the Australian Curriculum
  • reconnect them with our School Vision and our STEAM vision.

But is the relevance to our school vision seen by others?  Is there a clear line of sight?  What other work must be done to ensure that this is the case?

Another are in which I must focus energy is coaching and supporting others to implement these STEAM units.

 

Other areas of my responsibility include:

The ‘Young Innovators Program’ and a possible opportunity right now for expansion.

This program has been operating for the last 2 years.  It engages around 130 students each of 3 terms in the year.   So, is this what can now be kept running with minimal input?   Or, are my plans to include it in the options for the school professional learning models going to mean that this is a continuing high effort model?  Or is this expansion a really good example of reinvention which Tom also mentioned today as a feature of innovation? 

I have to remind myself that my hopes for the Young Innovator Program were always that this model of extracurricular learning opportunities would be replaced by high quality, real world, authentic learning within our learning models.  Do I look at this program as the final year?  And,  am I my own worst enemy when considering the current opportunity for expanding this program?   In letting go, what am I risking?

Our Existing ‘Bring Your Own Device’ Program

This includes the support of this program, the considerations about possible expansion, the preparation for a new year, the support of parents, my often all consuming need to document and share stories of how tech is supporting and transforming learning etc.

Is this something that can be just now supported with minimal effort – transferring into high effort in the final term as we prepare for a new year?   Our best results in our Departments’s Parent Survey in the last year have been the improvements in our community’s understanding of how technology is used to support learning.  Does this mean that I am ready to let the high amount of energy that goes into this go?  In letting go – what am I risking?

Digital Citizenship

We have just been accredited as an eSmart School.    Is this a perfect example then of something I need to immediately start minimising effort within?  As a minimum I would need to:

  1. Publish the new ‘I can…’ statements
  2.  Ensure this area of DigiTech is being reported on this term 

 

In letting go – what am I risking?

I do get anxious when I consider reducing the amount of effort I put into these areas, and so this question is quite relevant.    I am happy with how they are all going.   Do these programs now need so much ongoing effort?

   

 

Other Areas of Note:

Tom shared his key take-aways at the end of his keynote which prompted me to think about a few additional things for this term:

Share a language of learning – how can we establish the language of learning within our STEAM work?    I’ve already started making the classroom helper tools.    This needs to be viewed as important work – we need to share these at a staff meeting, We need to look at the General Capabilities and establish a clear line of sight between the CC thinking and the STEAM work.  The Social and Personal Capability is the area of the curriculum that refers to Collaboration – we need to do work on this but for 2018, I feel the Critical and Creative Thinking GC is the primary one to focus on.

Tom:  Share a language of learning and try to be forensic as possible.

Tom:  Challenge your assumptions.

What am I assuming????   What do I need to challenge?

Tom:  Don’t lose sight of what works. in order for us to take risks – we need to remember that which  is working

Tom: Design better learning proxies – how is what we are looking at a good proxy of learning?  What can we design in terms of assessment that is a better way of gathering evidence of what kids learn and making assessments?

We have a perfect opportunity to do this with the new units of work.  But we are also bound to the format for our Guide to Making Judgements.   Should we explore the possibl addition of  CC capabilities within the assessments we design? Should we find out if ONeSchool even makes that a possibility?  This seems to represent one key step towards creating a line of sight between assessment and our school vision. But does our reporting system even allow this to occur?

 

 

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I’ll Have What She’s Having

It’s easy to look at schools down the road and to want what they have.    What we tend to see in these situations is some sort of evidence of success.  And we want it.  And we think it must be easy to achieve by creating just that role,  and by getting just that right person who will do just that job.   We think if we write it into our strategic plans and make it a focus with our groups, then it will happen.  And a priority is for it to happen quickly.   A nice fit for a yearly plan might be a 6 month period.   6 month periods of change always achieve a nice write up in a report of the year don’t they?  Ticking boxes is always satisfying.

What has really led to that state of perceived success however, is much like the iceberg image below.     5 or 6 years of baby steps.    5 or 6 years of pushing the agenda to encourage people to think a little differently and to do things a little differently.     5 or 6 years of decision making that at times wasn’t quite strategic in the true sense – sometimes more just a case of people taking a leap of faith in one of our beliefs about the way forward.  5 or 6 years of personal frustration at the slow pace of change.   5 or 6 years at glimpses of success that would drive us further.  5 or 6 years of the occasional opportunity that fell into our laps that we could then build on.  5 or 6 years of building partnerships and relationships with people that would provide benefit to both parties.

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And are we there yet?  Absolutely not.  There is much to do and it is tiring and amidst change above us, often pushes us to the brink of exhaustion and self-doubt.    I see where we are and sometimes only recognise how much there is to go.    And I also tend to see how many challenges are placed in our way and how many blocks are left there from decades of ‘We have always done it this way’ thinking.

The biggest blocks however, are in our minds.  What I have recognised is that mindset shift is the hardest thing to do.    This can take years, if it ever happens at all.   Mindset shift for teachers is often moving them away from something that, to them, has always worked.  Mindset shift moves people to uncertain ground, challenging them to think differently, to question and to not assume that the well trodden path is the right path.  In much the same way that we must challenge our parents to recognise the alternate paths for our kids’ futures, we must also continue to challenge our teachers to lift their heads from the work that is overwhelming them and to place importance on learning and being a learner.    It’s also up to us to continue the momentum despite challenges and change, placing importance on high quality teacher learning and providing the time and space for this to flourish.

So, in summary, good change is not about ticking boxes, about putting people in roles, assuming they will check in with you occasionally and just get the job done.  Managing and embedding change at a leadership level means providing the vision – the vision that is achieved through collaborative and creative efforts with our people and then supporting people to reach it.  It’s about recognising the unique nature of your site and your own community and leveraging this to work differently, work harder or work smarter.  It’s also about keeping your eye firmly on the future and taking small and solid steps constantly to get there.

 

 

 

Change – is it a clear choice between floundering or thriving?

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Change – do we descend into a ‘pit’ or do we open our arms to opportunity?

When something changes with little warning,  which in turn impacts on a state where elements appear to be flourishing, it’s almost natural to regard that change with a certain degree of disappointment and dismay.   A feeling of being slightly shell-shocked can remain with you for days or much longer.   You view the short-term future as something that you must endure and something which is bound to descend into negative territory before it improves or indeed even gets on a steady footing resembling what it was before.

Essential however, at times like these, is to remind oneself that,  hidden beneath the layers of disappointment there may be, as yet, some unrealised opportunities for growth, clarity, progress and further evolution.

You may start to see the need to define your key steps and direction as an opportunity rather than a hinderance and the chance to gain clarity with the existing team as a time for a meeting of minds which will strengthen the way forward rather than as a time where things threaten to fall into disarray.

And even if one does flounder, there’s nothing to say that this state isn’t beneficial.   Floundering as a metaphor paints a picture of splashing desperately or being unable to gain a foothold or perhaps a less extreme one like being slightly unsteady in the shallows.  And being slightly unsteady may simply mean that you aren’t taking things for granted and that questioning is part of your mindset.

I just came across this description whilst reading about ‘Pause 2018’ – Australia’s Premier Innovation Festival.

This years theme is: Journey = Destination

A great idea doesn’t just come from thin air. It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and even some failures along the way. We want a no-holds-bar-warts-and-all story that will inspire our attendees to pursue their own journeys, take risks and be the changemakers of tomorrow. The only mandatory request that we have is that your address be: ‘Content You Can’t Google’, so keep that in mind when you are preparing your submission.

Is it a clear choice?  Of course it is…….

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My Actions Post Palooza

I have had an awesome few days at iPadPalooza on the Gold Coast as summarised by the blog posts below.  I like to take a copious amount of notes at these events as I find my memory later fails me for details when I am speaking to others..  So, this is what I will do and then over the days that follow – I tend to reflect and think on actions that might be relevent for my own site.

It’s interesting to me that my take-aways from events like this are no longer about the technology.   Of course, there were some great tips on apps from some truly talented iPadPalooza greats – especially to do with coding, art, connecting with nature and STEM – but my key learnings are always now about change and how it can be managed to cater for the future of the kids we work with.

So here are my take-aways:

Change is an opportunity to do things differently

This is something that has been at the forefront of my mind for years now.  I really need to accept however that this is not how everyone views change.   Design thinking is currently providing us with a tremendous opportunity – It’s providing teachers with a tool for change, innovation and reflection  and it’s providing teachers with a tool to design curriculum.   This is wonderful change.    Let’s keep the momentum going.

The need to keep going

We have come so far.   And it’s tempting to start congratulating ourselves and to risk ‘resting on our laurels’.    But when I hear from people like Richard Wells – I feel quite simply overwhelmed at how much further there is to go.   And I’m pretty sure that our system is 20 years behind that of New Zealand.  But what we have to do is to understand and appreciate that the small steps we have taken have to continue.   We have to stop accommodating teacher comfort and assumptions and the industrial model that we all still naturally operate comfortably within and we need to start evolving our community of learners towards a new model of learning – one that places students at the centre and one which fosters THEIR creativity, THEIR independence, THEIR resilience and THEIR knowledge of self and what THEY are good at.

  • We need to realise that our school vision is a tremendous opportunity to justify doing things differently.  We need to keep the conversation evolving regarding its implications.
  • We need to keep placing the reality of the future in front of our community ALL THE TIME.  Assumptions are quite powerful and we need to start initiating conversations with the reminder to put them aside.
  • We need to carefully consider groups like Yr 2 and 3 because they are the ones who will be the proof of our vision in 3 years time.     Are those groups starting 2017 with a new focus on process over product and design?  Are they?  How will their beginning of 2017 be different from 2016 after a year of learning?   WILL IT?

The need to include wellness in our approach

  • Michael Carr-Gregg was excellent in the way he made it so crystal clear that if we aren’t managing children’s wellness – then they aren’t learning at optimum levels.
  • Our new Social and Emotional program presents many opportunities in this regard.
  • There are clear alignments between children managing and growing their own independence and wellness.  We need to recognise the importance of this connection.

So, moving away from my broad ideas –

Practical ideas and possibilities:

  1. Can the school visit in Week 1 of Term 4 from NoT be focussed on Yr 2 and 3 teachers?
  2. Can the 2017 year start with activities designed to remind staff of our vision and what this means in a practical sense.
  3. The Yr 5 work on Design Thinking with Geography/DigiTech unit needs to be shared with staff.    Similarly the Yr 6 work using design thinking.  We need to actually hear from the teachers involved and learn from their experiences – warts and all.
  4. Is it possible that Week 1 of 2017 for every class has a focus on Social and Emotional Learning AND the Design Thinking process?  And that they don’t jump straight into more teacher delivered content?
  5. Can we speak to our student high achievers and ask them how learning could be different and what frustrates them?  Then share this
  6. Can we continue to work with our teachers to encourage reflection and growth in learning.
  7. The pitches from Round 2 PI need to have outcomes/results.