Teacher Retainment

Instruction, Leadership, Professional Learning

Schools in the Northern Hemisphere have recently begun a new academic year. Schools are welcoming students and families; administration teams are well prepared; curriculum programs are ready; resources are in order and social media is awash with exciting “snaps” of students’ first days.

Underlying the excitement of the start of the new year is the growing desperation as schools rally around to fulfil teaching vacancies.

With the increased scrutiny on school performance, teacher accountability is under the microscope. With teachers leaving the profession at alarming rates, measures to build teacher efficacy are needed.

While there are many reasons why teachers leave the profession, a better question could be “what keeps teachers in schools?” – research tells us there are two key factors:

  1. The quality of their colleagues, and
  2. The quality of the leadership within the school.

Leadership theories abound however, ultimately, I believe that being a leader is a social activity, guiding a team of people to achieve their best and in doing so deliver the vision of the school.

Linda Darling-Hammond published a book in 2003 titled ‘Keeping Good Teachers’. The key ingredients of the book suggests that reducing teacher attrition has to do a lot with how school principals lead their schools and how they deal with teachers based on their personal characteristics.

Leadership is all about building relationships. What’s your plan today?



What teachers are really doing over the summer break.

Leadership, Schools, Teacher, Teaching

With the summer break in front of us, many teachers are busily enjoying their holidays relaxing, rejuvenating and even reflecting. Teachers are curious creatures and although they holidaying and spending time with family and friends, they are also thinking about improving their teaching and preparing for the new academic year.

Here are five things teachers are secretly undertaking during their break that you may not know they are actually doing:

  1. Silently Celebrating: The fruits of a teacher’s labour is harvested many years later but they know when they have made a difference. Each child is unique and teachers strive to meet their individual needs. They thrive on each child’s little “aha” moment!
  2. Setting New Goals: Teachers are reflective by nature. Whether consciously or unconsciously teachers use these months to make new commitments to their teaching. They look back over their year, reflecting and thinking about what they will do better in the new year.
  3. Sharing Stories: Schools are social institutions and with countless interactions between people throughout the school day, there is bound to be a few unique and interesting anecdotes being shared. Whether it be something a student or teacher said or did, there is always a funny story or two to tell.
  4. Searching for New Ideas: Teachers know that engaging lessons are key to capturing student interest and attention. They are always on the lookout for things to help stimulate student thinking. Whether it be a new poster, trolling though Pinterest (and other social media sites) to find new resources or even reading an educational text, teachers are good at spotting opportunities to help student learn.
  5. Spending Time Self Caring: After the frantic nature of classroom life, teachers need time to slow down, take time to rejuvenate and detox their “teacher” mind. They spend time with family and friends, travel on holidays and take time out to enjoy the finer things of life.

And when the summer draws to an end, the rush to plan for the first day becomes more earnest. The setting up of the classroom, creating welcoming notes, writing the lesson plans and the like, become the order of business. In essence they are looking forward to the new year.

Although many of you may have been teaching for a few years, preparing for your classroom like it was your first time is always a positive way forward. Here is a useful article to get you started

Happy Summer!!

ISA Award Winner

Investigating Teacher Learning…

Instruction, Leadership, Staffing, Teacher, Teaching

I’ve been an educator for over 30 years, the last 25 in leading schools in both Australia and internationally.

While there has been a global shift in education, particularly in the personalised learning arena as schools attempt to deal with greater scrutiny from governments, school systems and parents alike; having a future focused mindset is helping schools grapple with this increased accountability as they work to address the needs of their 21st century learners.

In recent years, instruction has shifted from the one size fits all to a more differentiated approach to meet the learning needs of the student, and we know that our highly effective teachers are very reflective on their practice. They want to make a positive impact. They want to know what is working and what is not; and they want to know why. It is this notion that has shaped my leadership approach over the years as I help to build capacity within teachers to address the diversity of student needs within their classrooms.

This has seen, over the years, support for teachers to become more action research oriented in their teaching; encouraging them to investigate their teaching and using data or evidence from (and of) their teaching to inform their next steps in the learning journey.  

As a consequence of my experiences, I have published in this field of teachers as researchers, authoring and co-authoring books as well as a number of journal articles showcasing my experiences in building teacher capacity and leading educational change.

This brings to me to my latest venture. I am investigating the impact of teacher action research in improving student outcomes. The consequence of this research and the implications for schools is the focus of my next book.

There are two parts to the book: The first provides a context for the investigation through a review of the literature on the need to reform education, looking at what works in teaching and learning and unpacking the ‘whole of school strategies” in effecting school improvement.

The second part of the book outlines the evaluation and discusses the impact on teachers and student before offering some enablers for teaching improvement. It reflects on the role of the teacher as researcher as not only a means for teacher improvement but also a vehicle for fostering whole of school improvement. It discusses the New Curriculum Considerations and the New requirements of Teachers in today’s context.  The Role of Leadership in Teaching Improvement is examined and as I outline the Teacher as Researcher concept. I also offer insight into what is effective teaching in today’s educational context?

I believe that schools wishing to foster teacher improvement and improve instructional practices across their school will gain immensely from this book as it provides a roadmap for school leaders serious about improving teacher quality and raising student outcomes in their school.

Feel free to contact me for any further information. Schools (and educators) should not operate as silos. I look forward to hearing from you and furthering school improvement.

How to plan an effective lesson!

Instruction, Leadership, Learning, Teaching

Effective teachers know their students, have strong content knowledge and possess a wide repertoire of teaching strategies. They are well planned and very intentional about the practices they implement in the classroom. Effective teachers do not leave learning to chance!

School leaders (and indeed the school community) can identify the effective teacher through the preparation of their lessons. This is the teachers’ “bread and butter”. Researchers show that effective teachers include a number of distinct processes and stages in their lesson planning.

At Al Yasat we have taken the research and built a targeted lesson outline that ensures not only quality teaching and learning but also consistency across the school. We call it the “8 Elements of an Effective Lesson”. It helps teachers direct their planning to the needs of students, while implementing our school’s written curriculum; it offers school leaders direction in our class observations and walkthroughs; it provides a platform for our coaching and mentoring practices and most importantly; it is embedded in the best practice research and the many studies of what works in enhancing student learning.

Let me introduce the elements to you.

Beginning of Lesson

Element One: The Essential Question

We believe in the use of an inquiry approach to our teaching and learning and the need for students to have an understanding and the purpose of the lesson. We know that good questions direct students to dig deeper into content and processes, and delve deeper into the subject matter. More importantly they propel students to learn to ask their own questions. And within a subject they help focus content on the crucial and important parts of that subject. This is more than just letting the students know what they are learning to do in the lesson. It is about connecting prior knowledge to future applications.

Essential questions are non-judgmental, open-ended, meaningful, purposeful and they relate to the students. It is through the essential question that we as teachers, connect to our students.

Element Two: An Initiating Strategy

The purpose of an initiating strategy is to help students frame their thinking and focus on the concept at hand. The most important part of a lesson occurs during the first five minutes. If the activity engages students right away, you know there will be enough “sparks” to fly for the rest of the lesson and your job will be relatively easy. If the activity however is not challenging, repetitious, (”We’ve done this before!” Sound familiar?) there will be “lulls” that more often than not, result in discipline problems. The key of course, is to keep the “sparks flying,” but it all really depends on how you can spark up your classroom right away.

Simply google “best lesson plan hooks” and you will have plenty of ideas to “hook” your students into the lesson.

The Main Body of the Lesson

Research tells us that 80% of what a child learns is from their peers. Therefore we need to be more student centred with bulk time in co-operative/collaborative activities.

Element Three: Limiting Teacher Talk

We all love to talk in the classroom! So, we should; after-all, we are teachers! But ‘teacher-talk’ can (not solely) be a root-cause of poor behaviour and debilitate student’s acquisition of knowledge and skill during a lesson. Reducing teacher talk and allowing more time in lessons for students to be active participants in their learning, we believe is an important aspect of developing outstanding teaching and learning.

Element Four: Use of Graphic Organisers

Graphic organizers are important and effective pedagogical tools for organizing content and ideas and facilitating learners’ comprehension of newly acquired information. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences posits that students are better able to learn and internalize information when more than one learning modality is employed in an instructional strategy. Since graphic organizers present material through the visual and spatial modalities (and reinforce what is taught in the classroom), the use of graphic organizers helps students internalize what they are learning.

For today’s classroom, nothing is more essential to successful teaching and learning than strategy-based instruction. It is through the use of specific teaching strategies and learning tools that students can be more successful learners. Graphic organizers are teaching and learning tools; when they’re integrated into classroom experiences, students are better able to understand new material. Creating a strong visual picture, graphic organizers support students by enabling them to literally see connections and relationships between facts, information, and terms.

Graphic organizers have dual functions. They are effective as both a teaching and learning tool. As an instructional strategy it helps teachers:

  • Introduce a topic
  • Activate prior knowledge and linkit with new information
  • Organize content to be presented and a visually summarize the lesson once taught
  • Assess student comprehension, identify and address any questions or clarifications needed

Element Five: Differentiated Groups

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the area of differentiated learning and describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan. Research on the effectiveness of differentiation shows this method benefits a wide range of students, from those with learning disabilities to those who are considered high ability.

Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student.

We know that teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom:

  • Design lessons based on students’ learning styles.
  • Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments.
  • Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.
  • Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.
  • Continually assess and adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs.

Element Six: Targeted Instructional Strategies & Active Teacher Movement

Connected to the differentiated groups is the need to decide on the essential teaching strategy for that engages small groups of students. Educational researchers have known for decades that a student learns best when teaching is targeted to what he/she is ready to learn. If the material is too easy, students can become bored and disengage. If it is too hard, students will flounder and may choose to misbehave or give up rather than face continued failure. In either case, little is learnt. But if teaching is targeted at what students are ready to learn, powerful progress can be made.

Choosing appropriate teaching strategy is the key to this element. It is not about “busy work” while you work with a group of students. It is your direct intervention, checking for understanding, monitoring and providing feedback as you move from group to group.

The active teacher is roaming, identifying the disengaged student, and bringing them back on task.

Element Seven: Higher Order Questioning

In today’s world it is necessary, but not sufficient, for students to achieve minimal competence in areas such as reading, writing and numeracy. Beyond the achievement of minimal competence, students also need to develop what are often called ‘higher order’ thinking skills including critical literacy, critical numeracy and cross-curricular competencies. A useful conceptualisation of higher order thinking skills distinguishes two contexts in which these skills are employed: contexts where the thought processes are needed to solve problems and make decisions in everyday life; and contexts where mental processes are needed to benefit from instruction, including comparing, evaluating, justifying and making inferences. The ability to employ higher order thinking skills in both these contexts is seen as essential in a rapidly changing world and the first context in particular is being adopted as a starting point for international assessment programs.

Afterall, isn’t this is the outcome of implementing the vision of the school.

  • Remember: Retrieving relevant knowledge from long-term memory (recognizing, recalling)
  • Understand: Determining the meaning of instructional messages, including oral, written, and graphic communication (interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, explaining)
  • Apply: Carrying out or using a procedure in a given situation (executing, implementing)
  • Analyze: Breaking materials into its constituent parts and detecting how the parts relate to one another an to an overall structure or purpose (differentiating, organizing, attributing)
  • Evaluate: Making judgments based on criteria and standards (checking, critiquing)
  • Create: Putting elements together to form a novel, coherent whole or make an original product (generating, planning, producing)

Information learned and processed through higher-order thinking processes is remembered longer and more clearly than information that is processed through lower-order, rote memorization. This may be the most important benefit of high-order thinking. Knowledge obtained through higher-order thinking processes is more easily transferable, so that students with a deep conceptual understanding of an idea will be much more likely to be able to apply that knowledge to solve new problems.

End of Lesson

Element Eight: Summarise and Reflection

The closure of the lesson is the time when you wrap up a lesson plan and help students organize the information in a meaningful context in their minds. This helps students better understand what they have learned and provides a way in which they can apply it to the world around them. A strong closure involves summarising and reflecting on the lesson. It can help students better retain information beyond the immediate learning environment. A brief summary or overview is often appropriate; it doesn’t have to be an extensive review.

In order to maximise the lesson there are a number of tactics which can support you to make the time more organised and productive.

    • End early. Don’t try to cover too much material in one hit. Don’t mistake pace for manic activity. Leave at least eight minutes to finish off the lesson properly.
    • Use a structured plenary/reflection to end the session. This should be a group or individual reflection on what has been learned.
    • Ask the pupils to identify two or three key points they have learned from the lesson. These can be shared in small groups either written or as drawings and cartoons. A review of these points could become a regular feature of a homework routine.
    • Summarise the learning.
    • Set the scene for the following lesson.
    • Have clear routines for an organised departure. Don’t fall into the trap of not clearing away apparatus in good time.
    • Vary the way in which the pupils are dismissed, for example, row-by-row, small groups, alphabetically, one by one after answering a question. This will help keep the lesson focused right until the end.

The impact of effective lessons can not be underestimated, even for the more experienced teachers. Our lesson expectations offer teachers guidance and support for the teaching and learning, but more importantly, helps lead to improved outcomes for our students.

Teachers Transitioning to a New School

Instruction, Leadership, Staffing, Teaching

Across the globe there are many teachers preparing to move schools. While there are many reasons teachers change schools (eg looking for a different set of experiences or career move), when you walk through the doors of your new school it can be  a daunting process. It is a time that can be filled with excitement about the prospects ahead, yet at the same time it can bring about anxiety and feelings of uncertainty.

While the summer break offers you time to relax and recharge, it is also time to plan your new beginning. If you are in this boat here are some thoughts to ponder on as you prepare to meet new colleagues and new opportunities.

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: Understanding how your new school operates will increase as you experience the day to day happenings. However, the more research you can do prior to walking through the school gate the better prepared you are to make a difference. Once there, quickly ensure you are familiar with the staff handbook, school policies and procedures.
  2. Begin as You Mean to Finish: First impressions are lasting impressions. Meeting new colleagues can be daunting and it takes time to settle into a new environment however, there is an opportunity to present yourself to your new world. How do you want your colleagues to see you? This will be evident in how you communicate, interact and even how you arrange and organise your classroom.
  3. Put Your Best Foot Forward: You were chosen for this new position. Put your best foot forward and let them know they made a great decision. Whether you are a classroom teacher or a newly appointed middle leader, take the opportunity to shine.
  4. Build Relationships: Schools are social entities and comprise of various stakeholders (students, staff, parents, wider community). Connecting early with your parents, getting to know your students and fostering strong communication practices will enhance your place in the school.
  5. New Beginnings, New Opportunities: Sometimes things don’t go to plan. There may have been some disappointments or even frustrations about your previous school year. Changing schools is an opportunity to start from scratch, to begin a fresh and to put the past behind you.

Remember, you were chosen specifically for your new school. Your principal wants you to be the best teacher you can be and will help you achieve that goal. It is up to you to run with it. Enjoy!

Our Greatest Gift as Teachers

Instruction, Leadership, Teaching

Students of the 21st century are constantly defined as being techno savvy and engaged in the digital world. Perhaps as Vicktor Frankl, a renowned psychiatrist explains in a 1972 presentation, our greatest gift as a teacher is to not only recognise the student’s search for meaning but help them become who they want to be.

This focus on learning is further explored in Sir Ken Robinson’s presentation at the 2010 TED conference. In the presentation Sir Ken discusses the need to transform learning to meet the needs of the digital learners. (His wristwatch reference is a clear example of what schools need to address when planning elearning experiences).

The greatest gift a teacher can give students is the provision of a personalised learning environment. Knowing that all children learn differently, at different times and in different circumstances. it is important that our schools create the conditions that engages all students in their learning.

…..and this is not an easy task!

The Evolving Classroom

Instruction, Leadership, Schools, Teacher

Through Our Students’ Eyes

If we as teachers begin to view the world from behind our learners’ eyes we will be able to build future learning environments. Looking at how our students interact outside the classroom provides an opportunity for us to learn about how we can improve the in  class environments. The environments outside the classroom are student centred. Their ‘play’ environment allows quick flexibility for collaboration, working in small groups.

When Students Learn

The conception that learning takes place only at school, behind four walls and between school hours is misguided. Students use social areas (libraries, cafes, parks, sports fields, loungerooms, etc) to gather and collaborate. What is it that engages students in their learning environment? The comfortable furniture in the social areas lures students to informal meetings to share and discuss and the opportunity to work socially to converse on issues. It is not simply an adult domain to meet at a coffee shop to share personal experiences and insight into their views on ‘things’.  Environments like these are places of action, full of energy and enthusiasm.

There is a terrific 5 minute video clip by David Thornburg offers further insight into the evolving classroom that highlights the changing classroom.

We know that basic technology allows students to create and build content for learning. Given the open, comfortable and flexible learning environment it is then the role of the class teacher to facilitating learning, stimulating conversations and addressing specific learning needs.

Why Data is Important for Teachers

Instruction, Leadership, Teaching

Over the years schools have evolved in the use of data. As our understanding of data grows we are more able to meet the needs of our students. Data, in the form of assessments, anecdotal records on student learning activities and even information on out of school events, can be used effectively to improve student learning.

The important aspect of data is getting it into the hands of teachers. This is essential because effective teachers use data to help understand their students, their progress and direct students to understand where they are going. However, collecting data is only a part of the learning process.

One of the significant barriers to data is teachers’ understanding of data. It is the role of an effective leadership team is to help teachers understand the data given to them. Once teachers understand what the data is and what it can do for them, then it becomes a powerful tool for improving learning. Just as important (if not more important) is that students also understand the data.

Students need to know where they are in the learning cycle and they need to know what they are working towards. Expert teachers provide examples of the end point and guide their students towards the benchmark standard.

What data do teachers need?
Teachers need to know their students. This is more than just their academic ability. It includes the social and behavioural needs. Teachers also need to know where the students’ are heading in their learning. An understanding of the syllabus to enable effective planning to take place. Guiding students learning towards key learning targets requires a deep knowledge of both curricula and where the student is.

Data and Planning for Learning
Teachers use data to make judgments about what students should be learning and how to get there.

Teachers need to have a clear understanding of what performance standards are. Furthermore this understanding must be consistent across the grade to ensure what constitutes an ‘A’ in one classroom is the same in another. To achieve this effective moderation of work samples between teachers is essential. Together with standardised testing benchmarks and class based assessments, teachers use many data sources to help make informed decisions on student learning.

Once student standards are identified the next step is to plan for differentiated learning.

Why classroom teachers use data
Data is collected from a variety of sources to:

  • determine specific learning deficiencies for individual students and to inform planning for individual student targeted learning
  • see how well concepts have being taught and to identify which concepts that need revision
  • collect evidence of student achievement to be used in reporting
  • tailor teaching to the specific needs of students
  • identify students that need additional support, and most importantly
  • allow teachers to reflect on their own teaching practice

Data offers teachers the evidence they need to make effective decisions about student learning.

From the Industrial Age to the Conceptual Age

Instruction, Leadership, Professional Learning

During this winter break I have revisited one of my favourite books “Drive” by Daniel Pink. Published in 2011, the book provides insight into how to create high performance and increase satisfaction (at work, at school and at home). He puts forward the case for the human element (motivation) and our need to “direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world”.

For me here are some key learnings gleamed from a quick revisit to his book:

  • We need to prepare our children for their future, not our past.
  • It is the skills that the various professions require that we should be instilling in our learning delivery in school
  • Right brain thinking is just as important as left brain thinking.
  • Three key forces (Asia, automation and abundance) shifting the abilities to deal with the global economy..
    1. Automation: Last century machines replaced our physical work, this century software is replacing our thinking work (left side of brain thinking – facts, financial analysis, )
    2. Abundance: Give something you didn’t know you were missing
  • Develop new metrics: Are the new right brain qualities measurable?
  • Need to move to install STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) into the pedagogy – thinking, artist skills, connect technical skills
  • The power of asking questions supersedes the vending machine delivery of  recalling right answers.
  • Arts education has gone from ornamental to fundamental –writing across the curriculum, music across the curriculum.
  • Literacy/numeracy are stepping stones for great teachers to help support higher level learning.

It would be useful for leaders to take stock of what is motivating staff and to weave some of the many strategies contained in Daniel Pink’s Book into the new year strategic plan. Happy reading!

(PS. To help you further understanding this era we are travelling through, read Mark Treadwell’s “Whatever! The Conceptual Era & the Evolution of School v2.0″. It will help you tremendously.)