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.

Engineering the Future School

Leadership

The responsibility for improving learning opportunities lies in the hands of all educators, teachers and school leaders together. With input from the plethora of opportunities from social networking the information shared delves deep into the world of online learning as a key vehicle for engaging students in their learning.

The integration of information communications technology into the learning environment was seen as the most significant element in raising student engagement with their learning. With a myriad of digitally based applications incorporating social networking, online projects, linking with other schools and even connecting with experts in other online environments students have the opportunity to be active learners.

Implications for school leaders centres on the redesigning of the 20th century classroom environment to accommodate this rapidly developing 21st century learning environment. Discussion on how students learn, the ways teachers work with students and the relationships with the physical environment is urgently needed.

Developing curricular directions for learning will be one of the major stumbling blocks for educators as they wrestle between system/government accountability and the skills needed to be citizens in 21st century. The narrowing (or providing a prescriptive curriculum) of student learning though naive accountability measures will inhibit learning rather than enhance it.

The growing online learning organisations such as Coursea and MOOCs are leading the discussion through the development of online interactive learning programs and how schools can be supported in re-aligning learning experiences.

Such discussions will no doubt lead to some common assumptions. One major assumption is that all children can learn. The second is that the learning is not always at the same time; the same way or even at the same place. How we address these assumptions is the question.

Four Key Facets of the School Leader

Leadership, Schools

There are plenty of articles both in the scholarly literature and in the commentary magazines that state that effective leadership is the foundation for improving school performance. While there are key leadership styles (eg transformation, servant, autocratic, laissez-faire, bureaucratic,  collaborative, charismatic, situational, democratic) I like to focus on the behavioural aspect.

There is no doubt that the effective leader must contextualise their approach to the school. In one context the leader needs  a leadership style to  enable staff, yet in another setting they might need to be transformational and motivate people.

Regardless of your particular leadership style, for me there are four key aspects  that any leader must posses. These leadership traits are uniquely intertwined into the core essence of the effective leader. In short they are:

  1. The Art of Decision Making: It is a given that school leaders need to be able to make decisions. But to make an effective decision is not always as straight forward as it seems. The leader needs to have a clear process to gather relevant information and then, after careful analysis, decide on the best way forward.
  2. The Art of Being Results Focused: Some leaders coast into a position and then go about managing a steady ship. These leaders are often called the “care taker leader” or the “close to retirement leader”.  However, the effective leader continually focuses on achieving results. They target strategies to achieve their objectives and regularly monitor their effectiveness. Analyzing and reflecting on school data helps to keep an effective leader on task.
  3. The Art of Pursuing Alternative Viewpoints: Have you witnessed the leader who asks for your viewpoint repeatedly only to dismiss and take their own advice? This shallow form of collaboration limits the richness of the knowledge and expertise of others.
  4. The Art of Caring: The effective leader is genuinely interested in the lives of their staff. They know their staff and build a sense of trust through actively looking for ways to enhance their well being.

Notwithstanding the many roles and functions the school leader undertakes, if you excel in these four key facets you will enjoy a successful leadership career.

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.)

Beyond Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk

Leadership, Professional Learning, Schools

A recent professional conversation with a small group of staff members on what makes an outstanding school led to the realisation that next year will see the 10th anniversary of the Ken Robinson’s TED talk on changing educational paradigms. Given the focus on a technological revolution coupled with Mark Treadwell’s explanation of the paradigm shift in education we are experiencing right now in his text Whatever!: School Version 2.0 and other leading educationalists purporting the need to transform education systems the question seems to be lost in translation…. Has learning been transformed?

With the prolific attention to school improvement through standardised testing measures and the subsequent outcry of its impact on learning, it might be an opportune time to see if learning has been transformed outside a few pockets here and there. The growing “personalising learning” commentary might have traction in professional development sessions but is it being embedded in the mainstream educational systems? Maybe a revisit to the infamous TED talk might garner a re-invigoration of schooling. Are we still in a factory model? Is it still a one size fits all approach?

Maybe its a matter of talking the talk but not walking the walk!

Creating the Outstanding School: Everyone’s Dream

Leadership, Professional Learning, Schools

As a principal focused on improving student learning I was heartened by the recent presentations at the Dubai International Education Conference recently held at Al Ghurair University, Dubai. With the key message that the teacher is the centre of improving student attainment, the various keynote and concurrent presentations offered insight into the effective impact of the role of the “Teacher as researcher.”

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The teacher as researcher can be distinguished from their colleagues as they attempt to better understand their TEACHing practice and how it impacts upon their students. In researching the relationship between teaching and learning the teacher researcher actively contributes to the conversation of what makes a difference to student learning. This is an evidenced based process and involves reflective inquiry, working in collaboration with other teachers, their students, parents and the community.

Interpreting real time data, analysing the data and them making informed decisions based upon this information is pivotal to improving the school outcomes. The challenge is ensuring that all schools improve. However, as shared by Professor David Lynch (Southern Cross University):

“It is interesting to note that the latest figures released by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (Dubai’s education authority) show that the number of private schools in Dubai will reach 250 by the year 2020 or 16 per year. There are currently 169 private schools in Dubai as of last year, but this number will increase by almost 50% in the next six years to accommodate the projected 50% increase in student population from the current 243,000 level to 366,000 by 2020 or by 24,000 per year. One of the big challenges for the UAE is to prepare or engage enough teachers to meet this demand profile.”

With the rapid increase in the number of schools in Dubai to meet the increasing demand and the KHDA prescribed inspection process identifying what makes an “outstanding school” on what constitutes an outstanding school will continue to create much debate. To help foster the dialogue perhaps our latest publication “Creating the Outstanding School” will help.

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End of Year Reflection

Leadership

It is hard to believe that I have completed my first academic year at Dar Al Marefa. It feels like yesterday that I arrived in the Dubai to take on a new leadership position in a new country. The personal learning has been immense and very rewarding both personally and professionally.

As such, the end of the academic year is an exciting time for a school community. While everyone is looking forward to the summer break, the effective principal will use the time to focus on school improvement planning for the following year. At some point the principal will take stock of the year and spend some serious time reflecting on the events of the school year. Reflection is a critical practice of the effective leader.

Most reflections begin with a meditative approach, looking back and remembering the events month by month. This offers the principal with the timeline of the school. Completing the first year of a new school this process helps to focus on what’s important, what’s valued by the staff and school community. While each event has it’s mini evaluation after the fact during the year, recalling the various activities allows the principal to pinpoint what our school stands for. Looking at the events of the year questions like the following can be asked:

  • Do the events of our school reflect our vision & mission?
  • Are the events simply annual activities that we do……..(because that’s what we do?) Do the same people do the same things year in and year out?
  • What innovations have we introduced to the school?

For me, there are a few key questions that arise to guide my reflections as a principal leading the school. As leader this year have I:

  • Shared a clear understanding of what I stand for in teaching and learning?
  • made explicit the school action plan and its implementation?
  • Supported staff in their efforts to improve their instructional practice?
  • Increased the focus on student achievement? Has the student engagement increased?
  • Instilled confidence and fostered individual teacher aspirations
  • Value added to staff development? Did I delegate and empower or did I listen but made my own decisions?
  • Acknowledged the achievements of staff?
  • Celebrated success?

Such questions are great discussion starters to have with your staff, leadership team, students and parents. By doing so the effective leader is able to rate the climate of the school. It can be quite sobering to find out what staff say about your leadership of the school. (What does it say about the leader who doesn’t ask the questions?….) This is an important consideration because the  Gallup’s 2013 Global Workforce Study found that only 13% of people in 142 countries reported they were engaged in their work, while nearly a quarter reported they were “actively disengaged.”

When leaders speak about their key achievements as leader of their school, the community is not wanting responses on your personal milestones (eg I completed my first marathon this year). Although important to the well being side of leadership they are looking for some depth from the professional sphere. Furthermore, they are not looking for generic type answers either.

Focusing on your action plan should give you plenty to talk about when someone asks you……have you made a difference this year?

Raising Student Achievement: The work of the Internationally Minded Teacher

International Schooling, Leadership, Schools

One of the unique benefits of working in an international school is the opportunity to engage with a mix of cultures. One of the challenges is the drawing together of a diverse staffing demographics. Raising student achievement is the goal of each individual teacher.

While there is diversity within the student population it is also true within the teaching population. Given the research ( declaring the constant turn over of staff within international organisations of between 20-25 percent each year, the need for continuous induction of staff reveals a number of challenges for the principal and leadership team of the school. How do you sustain learning and not “waste” time inducting and re-inducting staff?

As explained in an article titled “Raising Student Achievement: The work of the Internationally Minded Teacher” (which can be found online at the International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change) the challenge for leaders in the international sector is to continue to meet the learning needs of educators. A targeted professional learning program is required. More precisely, a collaborative professional learning program. One that is focused on improving teacher practice more than learning how to implement a “program” of instruction.

This is where the coaching and mentoring aspect of the leader’s role comes into play.

Selecting New Staff? Look for Leaders.

Leadership, Recruitment, Staffing

The international school sector is an exciting playground for not only honing leadership skills but acquiring new ones. It is at this time of year when the focus begins to look at recruitment; both retaining and employing new staff. Classroom teachers, middle management leaders and even principals are at the mercy of interview panels.

But what do you look for when appointing? For me, regardless of the position we need to fill, I look for leadership qualities. Someone who will make a difference. I’m not looking for puppets who do move when strings are pulled. I need decision makers, innovators, creative thinkers and risk takers. I want someone who wants to make a difference and have the evidence to show they can.

I was once called a “Maverick” by an employer and I took that as a compliment even though I knew it was meant as a slur on my leadership. The connotation was that my visioning, decision making or leadership was being a principal that was independent, unorthodox or not in keeping with what other principals were doing. Therefore I was out of line. The message given clear; I was suppose to follow, not lead.

I was heartened when I stumbled across the thoughts of Kim Williams, the Australian Media Executive and Composer, in his autobiography. His views on leadership and the role of leaders moving their organisations struck a chord with me .

 Kim Campbell - Leadership

What resonates is his interpretation of and the confusion surrounding “busy” people. Too often leaders are busy doing “things” (managing) rather than building the path towards improvement (leadership). This is particularly important at the classroom level. You don’t want doers following, you want leaders acting, diagnosing, planning and intervening in the teaching/learning.

If you want improvement to be a key outcome then the need to appoint a leader rather than a manager, at any level of the organisation, is pivotal to your school’s success.

Learning and Improving Your Leadership

Leadership

As we begin a new year and having just completed my first term as the principal of an international school, I have, like many leaders, taken time to reflect on my learning. While not outlining the circumstances that lead to the learnings, I offer the following few points for your consideration.

  1. Doing the tough things first. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Knowing that our energy levels diminish as the day unfolds, it is a good idea to handle tough decisions and tasks early on. Better to address challenges while you are fresh.
  2. Set precise goals and repeatedly remind your staff. A key to achieving success is to ensure all of your team is on the same page. This is as important for the experienced leader continuing in the same school as it is for the new leader beginning a new school.
  3. Don’t respond to emails during the day. A number of colleagues of mine (unconsciously) boast of how busy they are and how often they respond to emails during the working day. While not withstanding the importance of attending to work related communication, it can be a distractor to the scheduled tasks of your day.
  4. Be kind to your staff. All teachers, whether directly or indirectly, seek guidance, affirmation and even correction. Working closely with staff is the instructional leader’s key ingredient for success.
  5. Students are Students. Regardless of where you lead, students have the same traits. They all have a yearning to learn. Taking time to listen to students helps to develop a balance view on school climate.

Each school has its own nuances to address and as the new leader becomes immersed in the culture and philosophy of the school, the greater the contribution he/she can make to the school.

Happy New Year.