Archive for the “Learning and Teaching” Category
I have written previous posts about how we collaborate, prioritise and ‘make and break’ decisions about school and organisational change. The decision-making process and how we seek different influences to inform it continue to fascinate me. There is no one answer or simple prescription that can be followed in these areas, and, consequently, one thing many schools struggle with is how to allocate the very scarce resources that they have. Each school has only a limited amount of ‘discretionary spend’ in financial terms or in the focus, time and attention of the staff. There are a lot of competing things we could focus on for our professional learning or spend our curriculum, property or staffing budgets on. The question is, how do we make sure we are getting the most positive outcomes possible?
When I was a principal, for example, much of the mail that came across my desk was offering deals on this product or that programme, and contained sometimes quite extravagant claims about the results that could be expected for our staff and students. You have to have a well-attuned filter at times. There are plenty of snake oil salesmen out there who will push hard for you to spend sometimes significant amounts of that discretionary spend on their products or services, when they may not align well with your articulated beliefs. So, how do we make the decision about which things are, in fact, the most important and influential levers for positive change in the outcomes for our students?
In the work we do in Learning with Digital Technologies and in CORE’s Professional Learning opportunities, one of the key informers for this decision-making process is what we frame as a ‘Graduate Profile’. In any school, if we have done a really good job with our students for the full time we have had them, all the external and family influences have been overwhelmingly positive, and the child is an enthusiastic and positive learner — what sort of learner and person will they be when they graduate or leave us? What will their academic and non-academic profile look like? This gives us the fundamental purpose of our school or kura — to make sure that all that we do is purposefully and intentionally encouraging the child to be more and more like this ‘ideal’. This also provides an effective filter for any changes or initiatives we are looking to put in place. If the plans will promote or extend the graduate profile competencies, then they are worth considering; if not, we can safely put them aside. I believe a well-understood and socialised graduate profile puts us less at risk of swallowing the snake oil described above.
The MoE has produced some useful guidance on choosing commercial packages, and there is good research about what is effective in the New Zealand context, too.
If we have our purpose clearly articulated and understood, then much of what we do, and the decision-making processes we undertake can be expressed as a series of questions:
WHAT: do the students need to do, be, and understand in order to be able to demonstrate the Graduate Profile?
WHAT: pedagogies and practices do the adults supporting the students need to have? What pedagogical content knowledge is integral to this?
WHAT: stuff is needed to support these practices?
I am a big fan of drawing pictures, and in my head these questions can be expressed slightly differently as a series of concentric circles.
This is, of course, similar to Simon Sinek’s well known why-how-what model.
This model above helps us to be clear about the flow of logic when we are making decisions about initiatives or changes that we are planning as well. Again, we are able to ask ourselves if there is alignment between the proposal and ensuring our students are more and more like the graduate profile. If this is not a purposeful intent, then, I would argue, the initiative — no matter how good it might be, no matter how many others are doing it, or how good the bargain is — should be abandoned.
It also positions teachers, and supports staff knowledge, skills, and abilities fully in the service of student outcomes. If students are not achieving what we hope, then what is it that WE are doing or not doing that is resulting in this outcome. Blame and/or responsibility are not with the child, their family or whānau, intelligence or genetics, or any other external factors. Sure, they matter, but we still have an obligation to make sure all students are achieving and making progress, don’t we?
The other significant thing in this model is that you work from the inside out. This is quite counter to the decision-making processes I have often seen in schools, where things are stalled, or progress is difficult; where a programme or initiative is planned and put in place without clarity about why; where the about what the proposed change is trying to achieve. Just because everyone else has BYOD, a certain phonics programme, GAFE, or any other initiative in place does not mean it will be a good fit for your context and address any need youhave. It may well be a good fit, of course, but the implementation will be much more effective and smoother if everyone is on-board with the rationale and what need it is actually filling, and what the intended benefit for the students is.
Inherent in this model, too, is effective self-review. This is the thing that will help you determine where the ‘gaps’ are at each level, and also what the most effective solution might well be. It will also help you determine where your priorities lie; the thing/s that will have the greatest impact on making your students more like your intended graduate profile are the things that you have the obligation to focus on first.
So, as you are implementing change in your context this year:
- Is everyone clear on the why?
- Do all staff have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to implement the change? If not, is the PLD planned going to address this?
- Do you have all the resources you need?
- Will the initiative result in positive progress for students towards a clearly articulated graduate profile?
If the answer to any of these things is no, or you are not sure, then there is value in taking the time to reflect on what is central for you and your students. Make sure you really get to the heart of where the issues you are trying to address really lie. Get appropriate support from outside the school if you need it, and make considered decisions about pre-packaged solutions. Most of all, ensure everyone is really clear about why the change is important and what part they will play in it.
** cross-posted from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2016/06/avoiding-the-snake-oil.html
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I wrote a while back about getting out of the ‘education echo chamber’ and challenging ourselves with people who may think differently or come from a different perspective than us. One of the links in this post was to RedTeams.net, who are counter-insurgency and security specialists. I find the whole concept of ‘red teaming’ fascinating, and those I work with will often hear me talk about trying to ‘break ideas’ and thrash plans around while they are still in their formative or concept stage. Red teaming has evolved from the historical Vatican concept of the so-called devil’s advocate – someone whose job it was to try and break ideas or plans, or to argue from the opposite perspective to the status-quo or accepted doctrine. The counter perspective was seen as essential to coming to good decisions and decision-making, just as actively seeking multiple perspectives is central to effective change in education contexts today.
One of my current favourite reads is Micah Zenko’s ‘Red Team — how to succeed by thinking like the enemy’. It outlines the whole concept of Red Teaming, and gives examples from a number of different fields across military and business arenas. He begins by observing:
Institutions — whether they are military units, government agencies , or small businesses — operate according to some combination of long-range strategies, near-term plans, day-to-day operations and to-do lists. Decision-makers and other employees do not simply show up to their jobs each morning anew and then decide then and there how to work, and what to work on. The existing guidance, practices, and culture of an institution are essential to it’s functioning effectively. Yet, the dilemma for any institution operating in a competitive environment characterized by incomplete information and rapid change is how to determine when it’s standard processes and strategies are resulting in a suboptimal outcome, or, more seriously, leading to a potential catastrophe. Even worse, if the methods an institution uses to process corrective information are themselves flawed they can become the ultimate cause of failure. (pg: xvi)
To me, that sounds very much like the dilemma schools and centres face each and every day, particularly at this time of the year as they are refining and confirming their strategic planning and day-to-day ways of working for the new year. It also reflects closely the understandings we have about the work we do in Learning with Digital Technologies to support schools and clusters to implement their plans and goals, but with a specific e-learning lens. Planning, making strategic choices, change management and ensuring the smooth implementation of actions promoting change towards agreed outcomes are all crucial elements of what we support schools and clusters to do.
Zenco (in Chapter 1) also describes six critical factors to the effectiveness of any Red Team programme. Once again these things will sound very familiar to anybody who is involved in school leadership or change management. With a specific school or centre context, these factors could look like:
- The boss must buy in: The support and engagement of the leadership in the entire programme and its outcomes is the most critical single factor in schools, centres and for Red Teaming.
- Outside and objective, while inside and aware: Those leading or supporting any programs or changes must be aware of the culture of the organisation and effective ways of engendering change within it. They must also understand who the official and unofficial leaders are and who it is most effective to work with and through to get the desired outcomes.
- Fearless sceptics with finesse: Don’t make assumptions — check them, break them, challenge them, and change them. Dance carefully around and between the things and people that may be blockers or impediments to change. Work carefully and skillfully with those people who may not be as on-board as others.
- Have a big bag of tricks: If one strategy doesn’t work effectively, good change leaders always have other ways of getting things to happen. They will know who the effective people are to collaborate with, and what strategies are most useful to work with them to get the change they desire.
- Be willing to hear bad news and act on it: Once again, effective leaders will be constantly reviewing and checking that they are on track for the outcomes they are seeking. They will be prepared to make changes along the way, and, if necessary, refocus their efforts in ways that will promote the long-term outcomes and gains they are seeking.
- Red team just enough but no more: You can over plan! At some point you need to get on with it and implement change, not just plan it and think about it. Fullan often quotes an inverse relationship between the overt ‘quality’ of strategic planning and the ‘quality of the outcomes’.
Redteams.net has a moto of “Plan, execute, vanish”. Again this has a strong education parallel:
- Plan well and for all contingencies.
- Do what you planned, and said you were going to do.
- Re-focus your change management attention and get on with the next thing when you have achieved your goal/s.
So, as you reflect on 2015, and really begin to ramp-up your school or centre development in 2016, what elements of Red Teaming can you include?
- Do you actively try to break goals and plans while they are at the formative and intellectual stage so you are less likely to be surprised by something you never thought of?
- Do you actively seek out the wacky and weird ways things that may go wrong – because they often do?
- Do you seek the perspectives of those you disagree with or ask the dissenters for their ideas?
- Do you over or under plan?
- Are you even planning and actioning the right things, the ones that will have the greatest impact?
- Do you over-labour things and not move on to the next thing you need to do?
- What will you do if your plan does begin to falter? Can you bring it back on track because the challenge you are facing is something you have already considered?
What other questions do you need to ask yourself to ensure that you achieve the things you aspire to for yourself, you students and your school/centre this year?
** cross-posted from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2016/03/red-teaming-school-change.html
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Source: Adapted from photo by John Nakamura Remy under CC
I have been doing quite a bit of work in schools, recently, who are right at the very beginning of their e-learning journey. For these Schools, things like GAFE (Google Apps for Education), Flipped Learning, and lots of the other things that many people reading this may now take for granted are, in fact, really new. One of the first things people in this situation tend to ask me is, “What should I do?”
Let’s reframe the question
What I think we should really do is reframe that question around impact. I, therefore, often answer the question with a question along the lines of, “What do you think the one change you can make is that will have the biggest positive difference to the learning for the students you work with?” Another addition to this could be, “ … and for the least amount of change and/or work for you”. I often quote the 80-20 rule, sometimes known as the Pareto Principle, when having these discussions. The premise of this is that 80% of the results or impact come from 20% of the energy or change. In the pedagogy context this could be thought of as identifying what the initial change/s are that will make, or have, the biggest impact on the students.
Start small and get it right
It is essential that any changes made rapidly become embedded in practice and part of the ‘normal’ in the classroom or school. Starting in a small and focussed way and using an Inquiry mindset, is a useful way of doing this. You do one thing and get it right, then quickly move on to the next. Don’t revamp everything in your programme at once. Start small and learn what you need to know to make that thing successful, then scale this learning across more of your programme and pedagogy.
For example: change something with one reading group, get it right, and then roll this out to everyone. Experiment, do it well, and learn from the implementation of this prototype about what needs to happen when you scale things up. Once you have sufficiently mastered things, move onwards and upwards to include more and more people, and more and more of your programme.
Bells and whistles don’t always make things better
One of the real challenges of technology and the digital space is the highly seductive nature of it all. I have seen many schools and teachers fall into the trap of trying to ‘do it all at once’ and turning their schools or classrooms into a digital christmas tree with all the whistles and bells at a meteoric pace. The sad bit is though that the whistles and bells may not in fact be making things any better for students, or the learning any deeper. Sure the teacher is working harder and things are taking longer. Kids are having to learn new routines and ways of doing things. But a lack of focus may actually be detracting from the learning. The whole thing quickly becomes unsustainable for both the teacher and the students who were supposed to be benefitting from this in the beginning.
Finding the sweet spot using the 80:20 rule
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not advocating for inappropriately slow implementation of change any more than I am for over-paced development. The ‘sweet spot’ is somewhere in between.
I was reading about this idea recently, which takes the 80:20 rule above and extrapolates it out even further:
“What if you took your 80-percent results and applied the 80/20 rule to them? And then one more time?
What you end up with is the idea that your initial 1-percent of energy spent brings about the first 50-percent of results.
It’s about finding the key things that make the difference
For me, this hits home the point about key things making the difference, and choosing that sweet-spot where we get the best bang-for-buck in terms of both simplicity and impact. Small changes often have disproportionately and deceptively big impacts.
I wonder then, if we can come up with a set of questions we can ask ourselves in order to force a focus on some fundamentals and the things with the biggest influence?
Here is my attempt at this:
|What (potentially) small changes COULD I make that will have the most significance for the learning of the students I work with?
||Trying to focus in on the key small actions or changes rather than the big ones — eg: introduce a choice of digital activities for the non-instructional time with the XXX reading group NOT digitise my entire reading programme
|How much personal learning and change is required for me, for my programme, and for students?
||Is the learning curve involved for the teacher and the students worth the time and effort? Remembering that learning software is not the focus of our programmes and the purpose of our time in the classroom is not to be trained in apps, tools or technology.
|Is the proposal doing things better or just differently?
||Are we exploiting the potential of technology to make things possible that are not in a ‘pen and paper’ or analog world? If not then is having the tech the best option?
|Does the ‘better’ justify and outweigh the ‘different’?
||If the answer is yes then this proposal may have real merit
|Of the possible changes I COULD make, which SHOULD I make to have the biggest initial impact?
||Choosing the most ‘impact-full’ option among the possible choices as the place/s to start.
What other questions or considerations would you include?
**Cross-posted from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2015/11/doing-what-makes-the-biggest-difference.html
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I like to read quite widely. My RSS feed is full of all sorts of seemingly random things that inform my thinking and sometimes these ideas provide real me with real challenges to what I believe. The challenge bit is quite intentional. One of the issues we sometimes face in education is the echo chamber we live in. We subscribe to the feeds of people we agree with or whose ideas have grabbed our attention. On Twitter we follow the so-called ‘thought-leaders’. We go to conferences where the EdTech and educational rock stars are speaking and running workshops.
Graphic: Bobbi Newman under CC
But, will this give us a wide and varied diet of influences, ideas and inputs into our thinking? I was reading today about the Medici Effect. This refers …
“… to being open to transferring knowledge from different fields, e.g, from business to education. Education is excellent at being reflective and looking inwards, but very rarely does it seem to draw from other fields. Constantly be on the lookout for things you could use in your classroom. …. Having an open mind to ways those outside of education engage and educate is very valuable.”
(p43, Forget being the favourite: 88 ideas on teaching differently by Tim Bowman)
I agree with Tim completely here (and his book is an easy and enjoyable read). But it is the message in this quote that is key. How many of the influences on our thinking do we consciously look out for that are different from our own? How many from outside of the closeted world of education? How many from people we profoundly disagree with?
This blog post from Corrine Campbell sums things up quite well too, and specifically in relation to Twitter. Corrine addresses the power of what some are calling abrasive tension or positive abrasion. A few people like George Couros picked up her post and commented on it too:
The beauty of genuinely engaging with someone I don’t agree with, rather than trying to argue against them, is that it stretches me. It forces me to re-examine my beliefs and put them under scrutiny. I may emerge with an even stronger commitment to a particular stance, or I may find myself shifting on issues and adopting a new position. This is healthy, and it is to be encouraged.
Out of disagreement or challenge comes a forced deeper thinking. After all if you can’t provide the strong and cohesive counter argument to something do you really know what YOU think?
Graphic: walknbostin under CC
Also, in what areas of our work in schools do we consciously work to find influences outside of education? Schools are not the only places in society where we manage people, want them to learn, manage conflict and institutional change, juggle competing demands for scarce resources, and so on. We could do worse than look beyond our own sheltered garden for ideas and inspiration.
So in my current reading I have people like:
- http://redteams.net/ – who are security and counter insurgency specialists. The interesting part though is that so much of their thinking is hugely applicable to strategic planning and change management processes. Red Teaming is loosely the good guys trying to break into computer, military and other secure systems. In order to do this you have to plan effectively, manage change and be hugely agile, and look for weaknesses in systems and processes. It would make a big positive difference if we ‘Red Teamed’ things we are planning to do in schools before we implemented them.
- Shawn Blanc and Patrick Rhone – who both write about technology and simplicity. The beauty and elegance of simple things done well is amazing. The catch is, simple is HARD! Having minimalism and simplicity at the core of what we do in education would help in many situations however, where complexity and ‘bloat’ are sometimes stifling creativity and effectiveness. (As an aside Patricks Dash-Plus system is gold as a simple task management system!)
- Bruce Hammonds and Allan Alach — who I sometimes agree with absolutely and sometimes leave me shaking my head.
- On Facebook my feed is full of things from conspiracy theorists as well as family and friends. Again sometimes there are interesting provocations and sometimes some head shaking on my part.
My wondering here for us all is this: Who do we listen to who challenges us? Who makes us want to throw things at the computer screen or the TV? More importantly … if we were in the same room would we be able to put a convincing counter argument to what they are saying? If the answer is no do we really understand what we claim to believe well enough yet?
Getting outside our echo chamber and actively utilising the Medici Effect may well have a lot of positive benefits for our own thinking and the learners we work with as well.
** cross-posted from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2015/10/the-medici-effect-and-getting-out-of-the-echo-chamber.html
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Collaboration has become a real buzzword in schools recently. Modern Learning Practice (MLP) is built upon a foundation of collaborative practice and places like the VLN are full of discussions around the value of working closely with colleagues. Thinkers like Fullan (eg 2011) and Timperley et al all claim that collaboration is central to their understandings around school development and teacher professional learning.
But what does Collaboration look like? Really ….? How do we know it when we see it … hear it. … experience it? This has had me wondering a fair bit recently. My concern is that we often identify what I would call connecting or cooperating as collaboration. All three of these things are in fact quite different, and developmental I believe. I have attempted to capture the differences in the diagramme below:
Illustration: Greg Carroll 2015
This is where teachers come together for a specific purpose and agree to work together, share resources etc simply to serve an agreed outcome or purpose. This is generally short-term and intermittent. A lot of teachers are connecting on social media for example and this enables them to use a collective intelligence to find specific resources or ideas. The NZ Teachers (Primary) Facebook page and Twitter in some instances could be examples of this kind of connection.
Each person who is connecting with the others could still function quite adequately if the relationship didn’t exist (but is is better for everyone while it does).
This is where my metaphor of parallel play comes in. Developmentally children play alongside each other before they play together (connecting before cooperating). They use the toys to play their own games in the sand pit before they share them and play together. The Venn diagrammes above show this.
This is more in-depth more long term, and more closely linked. I have worked in many schools where teachers in syndicates co-operated a lot. This also happened across the staff for Units, sports days and so on. We shared students for literacy and numeracy between classes in order to cater for ranges of needs at both ends of programmes. We could have survived without the other people but our programmes and the outcomes for the students were certainly better because of the ways we worked together. We planned together for core curriculum areas, aligned Inquiry topics and shared resources and ideas for how we could make things as successful as possible for our students.
Many teachers also cooperate for their professional learning. Social media and forums like the VLN are hotbeds of people sharing ideas,practices and resources. People come together for their professional learning in PLGs or other forums at agreed time frames but often have little contact with each other in between times. They could operate without each other, but the collective brainpower of the minds working together certainly make it better.
This is where people are so inextricably linked that they couldn’t function without the others. The effect is much bigger than the sum of the two parts. In MLP this is the thing that makes the difference. Teachers share and organise the programme in ways that mean you couldn’t split the ways of working back into its parts again. Again the Venn diagramme above shows this.
Learners of all kinds collaborate in many different ways and in many different forums. There are lots of good examples of teachers and classes collaborating for their learning (eg VLN Primary). Enabling eLearning is full of in-depth and ongoing examples too. Social media can also provide forums for people to engage with each other in these ways.
The key thing here is the complete reliance on each other to achieve the shared goals. No one person could do it on their own.
In my experience we often see confusion between these three ‘levels’. People often refer to cooperation as collaboration in particular. True collaboration is actually still quite rare I believe. I have also seen quite a few so called Modern Learning Environments where in fact the teachers are simply cooperating to use the space/s provided. They share the physical spaces and places, and sometimes some of the students, but also are largely ‘the rulers of their own kingdom’ in a series of classrooms without walls in a big open space. This is often what we saw in the days of ‘Open Plan’ in the 70s and 80s.
So I guess the questions that occur to me are around how we know true collaboration when we see it. How do we know what to notice? The defining questions I think we need to ask are:
- Could this scenario continue to operate if one of the partners became disengaged or was not there for any length of time?
- If you analysed the ways of working, which Venn diagrammes above would be the most necessary to record what is happening?
If collaboration is identified as being such a critical factor in MLP (and I absolutely believe that it is!), and therefore in MLEs, it is essential that we know it when we see it. It is equally as critical that we know when we are not.
** cross-posted from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2015/06/collaboration-so-much-more-than-parallel-play.html
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Link to info on her presentation.
Q: Does the next big best thing really make it any better? Different is NOT better by definition.
The focus should really on the 'WHY' rather than on the technology.
compliance DOES NOT = engagement. Quiet and still does not mean learning.
Describing using video with pauses and prompts. eg: watching a video made by teacher that has instructions like "pause the video now and using a post-it label 4 polygons n the room". Enables the medium to scale the teacher around the room => active, engaged room.
She is constantly referring to "problems of practice" … Teaching as Inquiry anyone?
Using a GForm as a check-in. "The comfort of anonymity"
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Chris Betcher: resources here.
creating banners – http://bannersketch.com
image editing and creation – http://pixlr.com
fancy text for headers – http://cooltext.com
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Robs site Learning Architects
link to presentation
- range of tools – lots of parts and lots to learn.
- Google moderator – link to main page. lets you have questions adn able to interact with them.
- Cloud based – easy access 24/7/365
- lots you can do to make it 'safe' – digital citizenship issues.
- easy to install and run. Mahara.
- Help is good in GApps – show this to people.
- highly customisable 🙂
- Process for deployment in presentation has links to things to do as well as things to consider.
- school 'start' page. Splash screen …. place you begin for the school staff and students – for content and tools. GSite? Ways to make it easier for the people.
- GAFE blog worth subscribing to!
- sell the value propositions and support the 'how'. Stuff on stickers so peole can keep with laptop/diary/etc.
- links in Robs presentation for egs of ways have been used.
Some really good egs shown of using spreadsheets for documentation. Not seen used in this way before 🙂
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