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.