Re-Entry to School Buildings Post COVID-19

Curriculum, Instruction, Leadership, School Culture, Teacher

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?

Teacher Appreciation Week 2020

International Schooling, Leadership, Teacher, Teaching

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.

#alyasatschool #teacherappreciation #uae #teachers

Our School is in Great Shape

Leadership, Learning, Teacher

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.

Preparing to Implement Change in School

Leadership, Professional Learning, School Culture, Teacher

Effective schools are ever changing as school leaders grind towards improving their schools. Recently I was asked how I have been successful in driving change in the schools I have led. While there is no “one size fits all” approach I believe there are a few key ingredients the school leader must have in order to successfully navigate the educational change process and make a positive difference to their school.

  1. Building Alignment: The saying, “have all your ducks in a row” is the first step for the school leader wishing to engage in a change management strategy. You need to be well organised and well prepared to implement your school improvement initiative. Having alignment across the school is important. Teacher understanding (and agreement) for the change will lead to commitment to the process. Ensuring you have the resources at hand, agreed indicators for success outlined and an achievable timeframe in place will aid your efforts in bringing success to your project. Having the right mindset/attitude across the school is your goal as you bring the school together. Ultimately, your organisational alignment is the glue for achieving better performance.
  2. Think before you Speak: Part of the preparation for change is taking time to think about how to implement your initiative. Gathering your data, interpreting the evidence, and making an informed decision about future steps is an initial step in determining where you are in the context of learning. As the school leader you need to sort out the inefficiencies and decide on how you want to proceed forward before embarking on sharing with the masses. 
  3. Preempting the Barriers: If you know your staff well then you probably know who the resisters to your new school improvement initiative will be. Preempt the initial rejection by focusing on what questions the resisters will raise. This way you can have your answers ready. Looking at it from someone else’s point of view will help clarify how you will respond. Watch out for the ‘late career’ teachers who have been there for a while and seen initiatives/programs come and go. How are you going to address their resistant attitudes?
  4. Manage Yourself: Continually managing change in a school setting can be a difficult task and has repercussions for the school leader. We have all seen and heard stories of how leaders have suffered from stress and burnout. Looking after your physical self to help look after your emotional self is crucial to sustaining a successful leadership role. Understanding how you respond to the negative stuff in school will help you prepare for the rigours of engaging in educational change.
  5. Building Culture:  Probably the most important preparation piece for any leader is the need to build your school’s culture. In order for your new change initiative to work you need to have the culture to support it. Your success is going to be held back by the staff implementing the plan if the school culture does not support it. As Peter Drucker so famously stated…”Culture eats strategy for breakfast“.

In summary,  in order to prepare for change, the effective school leader begins by aligning the school culture, the staff and the action plan. This will ensure success in implementing the change initiative within your school.

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.

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.

Innovation and Creativity

Leadership, Professional Learning, Staffing, Teacher

In recent times the push towards innovation and creativity as a vehicle to both lift educational standards as well as meet the future skills required of the knowledge economy workforce, is an admirable stance. It appears that the Sir Ken Robinson crusade is finally gaining traction with education agencies beginning to require schools to provide evidence of innovation being enacted (for example, see the new UAE unified School Inspection process).

A google search on innovative schools will see a plethora of entries that denotes innovation as a measure of a school being different to other schools. The Steve Wheeler blog post on 4 Things Innovative Schools Have In Common should be catalyst for for all leadership teams in raising the conversation of how we meet the needs of our future learners (and ultimately workers). His analysis of the common ingredients are:

  1. students are seen as unique individuals rather than groups
  2. schools are connected with the outside world
  3. curriculum is delivered in a manner that encourages critical and creative thinking
  4. design of the learning spaces is creative

To contribute to this discussion I’d add that innovation is played out by the creativity and expertise of the classroom teacher. Two vital ingredients necessary are having a bold vision and strong leadership within the school. It is through these two elements that the fruition of the innovation can become reality.