It has been bandied across the social media platforms that education and how we deliver learning will need to change to address the “new normal”. Given the paradigm shift schools have faced in recent time, we cannot simply return to the pre COVID-19 approach to teaching and learning. Our experience has shaped us and informed us on how to best connect with students and engage them in their learning.
Research tells us that prior to the pandemic a third of teachers were actively thinking of leaving the profession within the next five years. Given the pandemic impact in the international school setting this statistic might rise with teachers wanting to return home to a more familiar and stable environment. Speak to recruiters (and other school leaders) and you will find that schools potentially anticipating a teacher (and school leader) recruitment crisis.
But there has been some silver linings during this pandemic. Across the globe, countries have cancelled their national standardised/high stakes testing regimes and looking at other means of providing assessment for their students. However, it is not only the 2019-20 cohort who will be affected by this crisis. The future and implications of such decision making is yet to be realised (if not improved!).
When we do go back to school everything will be different – and it must be different. From what we teach our students, to how we teach our students through to how we keep our students safe. We probably need to go back and ask ourselves the fundamental question of this age: what is the purpose of education?
No doubt the educational authorities, the experts in our field, have started formulating the answer. While we wait for their direction we too must be ready to enter a new reality of doing schooling given our professional judgment in light of the COVID-19 era.
So what might a re-entry into school buildings look like for educators and their school communities? Here are three categories that educators will be pondering:
1. Health & Hygiene Measures:
Given the precautionary social distancing, hand washing/sanitising campaign and temperature monitoring that has been instituted to help prevent the spread of the virus, there will be an expectation that similar measure be put into place when we return to school. There will be temperature screening on entering the school building and randomly throughout the school day. Teachers will be asked to stringently monitor (& limit) student access to washrooms and classrooms will most likely revert to rows of desks (with social distancing in mind) facing the front of the classroom. Changes to break times, restricted playground options and a rethink of how to use the cafeteria will be worked out.
2. Curriculum Re-Writes:
In a recent article John Hattie noted that “If we take out one term/semester of 10 weeks, [Australia and the US] still have more in-school time compared to Finland, Estonia, Korea and Sweden, which all outscore Australia and the USA on PISA,” Now if John Hattie is right, then it’s not time at school that’s the problem, it’s what we are teaching our students. We need a drastic rethink of our curriculum standards and dare I say, the mandated core subject allocation. Suffice to say that our current curriculum is voluminous and over crowded.
3: Pedagogical Shifts:
The fear is that a re-entry to the school buildings will see a return to the stand and deliver teaching methodology. It’s an easy solution to comply with the expected rules and regulations that may come down the educational authority line. The challenge for teachers is to use the learning experience of school closures and the various methods of facilitating learning for students at home and blend them into a new school experience. The flipped classroom, provision of instructional videos, project based learning derivations and even active learning strategies, will need to be the “new normal” when we return to school. However, for this new pedagogical stance to rise, changes to not only current standardised/high stakes testing but also inspection accountabilities need to be considered.
That said, the real question on everyone’s mind is, will we be re-entering school buildings too soon, or not soon enough?
During this COVID-19 crisis, many people have been displaced from their normal routines. There has been a tumultuous upheaval in our day to day lives as we have now come to deal with the sudden closure of our retail outlets, shopping malls, restaurants, and of our schools.
The impact is devastating, for many as jobs have been lost, salaries cut, and with the pressures of working from home, the balance of family and work life has become problematic. Well-being issues have been brought to the forefront of conversations.
For families, it’s difficult to have to monitor two, three or four children each day to ensure their learning continues and learning tasks completed. No doubt parents are very appreciative of the work teachers do (given that teachers manage classes of up to 30 students every lesson, every day, every week)
Everyone is acutely aware of the challenges teachers are under. The pressure on them has never been greater.
Let’s not dwell on the mandated high stakes testing, or the diversity of student needs within the classroom, or the ever increasing accountability measures placed upon them, but rather celebrate and affirm their unwavering efforts to do the best they can for each and every student. It’s not an easy task.
Many teachers have had to learn new digital tools overnight as they moved into uncharted territory to personalize and improve their instruction for distance learning. This has come without real guidance and was fraught with many challenges and barriers. Perseverance, creativity and long hours have helped ease the transition. New routines, communication practices and a huge shift in pedagogy (ie the method and practice of teaching) has seen learning continue.
Our teachers too are essential workers, keeping the future alive under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. They are also in isolation, but provide countless hours of support to our students, parents and each other.
If there was ever a time to show our appreciation of teachers it is now.
To my staff at Al Yasat Private School, Abu Dhabi, I thank you! our students are in great hands. We are lucky to have you.
Schools around the world have shifted to providing learning for students remotely. For Al Yasat, this transition from a predominately classroom based, face to face instruction to a home distance learning format has occurred swiftly and almost seamlessly. Although it’s not without its challenges, on a whole, we are working through the implications of being thrust into a new mode of teaching.
Our teachers have upskilled their capabilities to provide meaningful instruction online, blending face to face (live) tutorials with video clips (both commercial and self made), and online resources. All for the sole purpose of providing continuous learning for their students.
A key supporting factor in the successful transition was the forward planning the school undertook when we developed our digitalisation action plan a few years ago. In particular, the roll out of the “Chromebook” program has placed our families in a good position during the complete move to distance learning. They already had devices and had experience with the Google Suite. Together with the implementation of the online textbooks, engagement in some key online software programs, our students have been able to continue their learning without interruption.
With the support of the senior leadership and middle leaders, teachers are helping teachers on how to translate classroom curricula into engaging distance learning lessons. The celebration of learning is shared via our social media platforms as well as internally through our our own communication portals.
What has helped with the transition is the fostering of good routines and offering flexibility in access to learning This has empowered students. Other key consequences of this sudden shift to distance learning has helped develop students’ time management strategies and bring parents a little closer to the education system.
Although only into four weeks of distance learning there is much to celebrate.
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:
The quality of their colleagues, and
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?
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.