Sharing Experiences and the Benefits of Attending Conferences

Leadership, Professional Learning

Over the next few months I am looking forward to presenting at a couple of important conferences. In particular the following two (If you are attending one of these please come and say hello):

The first conference is the International Conference on Teaching, Education & Learning in Prague in June. My address is focusing on “Developing a Process for Data Driven Change to Impact Student Achievement and Build Teacher Capacity“. Schools have been caught up in responding to the calls of external accountability. This has challenged school leaders to establish data gathering practices that ultimately lend themselves to creating school wide instructional systems to impact teaching and learning and offer a consistent instructional approach. This presentation outlines how our school established a data driven approach to improve teacher performance. This is being achieved by focusing on key elements from research literature as a catalyst for driving new innovation. In the presentation I share how a data driven focus (DDF) allows leaders to intentionally and systematically improve student learning. The presentation begins by unpacking the need to understand how leaders create the foundation to develop a DDF as a vehicle to facilitate information about student achievement within the school. The second part of the presentation presents the change process to implement DDF as guided by key elements. Being a data-focused school is a possibility for each and every school.

The second one is the 2019 IB Global Conference in Abu Dhabi in October. Here I am sharing insight into how our school is building staff aptitude and competence to positively impact student achievement levels. It is evident that we are teaching and learning in an age of scrutiny in school performances. With the growth in national and international attention to key benchmarking programs including PISA and TIMSS, the expectation (and dare I say competition) between governments, educational agencies and the wider public arena, to raise their performance scores, has had an inhibiting impact upon schools. A natural consequence of playing in this space is leading schools to becoming more focused on being evidenced based. This has seen an increasing focus on the collection of assessment data as well as other performance measures. The view is that such information  is analysed leading to more informed (instructional) data driven decision making processes. It is this scrutiny of data that has, as John Hattie has proclaimed, firmly placed teachers under the microscope. The focus on role of the teacher in leading school improvement has gained momentum. Teachers are themselves, being more reflective and collecting more data to help them make more informed decisions. The underlying premise is that at school, the teacher is the single most powerful influence on student achievement. However, the problem is nested in the lack of skills teachers have in this area of actively engaging in data use to drive instruction. Many teachers, particularly those that have completed their undergraduate studies a number of years ago, have not had much engagement or professional development in this arena. Which leads me to the crux of the presentation? How does an effective school use data driven decision making to enhance teacher performance; thus leading to improved student outcomes?

Although the research indicates that attending “one off” conferences does not have significant impact upon sustainable learning I’d like to offer the following benefits:

  • Opportunity to meet like minded educationalists: When you attend a conference you often build meaningful (and at times long lasting) relationships. Everyone attending has something shared experiences. After all, schools have many things in common with each other.
  • Stay Up To Date with Latest Thinkers: Listening to speakers share their knowledge and experience helps to keep you abreast of key educational trends and directions. Taking notes will help to revisit the multitude of content offered and will allow you to reflect more critically after the conference is over. Besides, sometimes its great to meet the authors of the material you are reading..
  • Making Connections: Getting inspiration from people that will help you in your own workplace is one of the positive benefits of attending conferences. Listening and learning about what others are doing and then considering how their learnings can assist you in the work you do is invaluable. Maybe you can grab their business cards and send them a note afterwards, just in case you didn’t get an opportunity to ask a question.
  • Share Ideas and Solutions: Making meaning out of material shared at conferences is one of the key points of attending. While at the conference, with the advent of social media, tweeting, live blogging, posting to Instagram and any other social networks that you associate with, is useful in sharing your new knowledge and experiences. After the conference you could share your learning by creating videos of the presentations you thought were particularly valuable, provide a quick overview of some key points at your next staff meeting, share information about any interesting contacts you met. Education is a collaborative enterprise and you can contribute to the learning of others via some of these easy activities.

Attending conferences, whether for professional or personal development, should be a worthwhile experience. Don’t forget to experience the extra curricular activities that often go hand in hand with conferences. Your time shouldn’t be all work and no play!

7 Ways to Support Your Professional (Educational) Reading

Leadership, Professional Development, Professional Learning

Every effective teacher wants to be a better practitioner tomorrow than they are today. They are always looking to improve. While attending conferences and workshops, undertaking courses or joining a professional association are helpful activities to develop your prowess as a teacher,  the reading of academic journals and educational texts/books is a good way to meet your own learning needs.

Here are 7 tips to help you read more:

  1. Set Targets: Aim to read a set number of books and articles in a chosen time period. By setting achievable goals you will build a positive reading habit. Set achievable goals to fit in with your own personal and professional life. 
  2. Set a time to read regularly: Whether you schedule to read before breakfast, while on commute to work or after the staff meeting, the important point is to develop a positive reading habit. Even if it is only for 15 minutes, setting time aside to read will keep you on track to reach your reading goal.
  3. Make a List: During your day to day teaching and learning cycle you will come across a field of ideas that you would like to know more about. Maybe it’s dealing with the SEN student or how to rearrange your teaching centres or how to ask questions more effectively. Write them down and make a list. This will direct your choice when visiting the bookshop or browsing the online store. It will also add more value to your teaching and learning as you become more reflective on your teaching practice.
  4. Read With a Purpose (and then take action): Whether you read to answer burning questions or just to learn new ideas and techniques, always take notes. Turn these notes into actionable items that you can use in your classroom.
  5. Set Up A School Book Club: Having colleagues read the same material and then discussing content material over a coffee helps to keep you on track (ie forces you to read!!). This collaborative professional learning activity will help everyone.
  6. Write About It: Share your reading through contributing to the publication field or even sharing with your colleagues. The more you read, the more you will be able to share with others. Writing helps to consolidate your thoughts and gives more clarity to your own reading.
  7. Keep a Book With You: There will be opportunity to read wherever you go (waiting for the Doctor; commuting on the train). While carrying a hard copy is useful, having your phone/tablet with the Kindle app is useful too. (Listening to a book/podcast is good too)

Professional Development is a Key Indicator of School Success

Leadership, Professional Development, Professional Learning

The role of the teacher is key to student success and that is why leaders spend plenty of time developing and engaging in professional development.  Teacher PD is pivotal to school success.  What does professional learning look like in your school.  This 90 second clip gives insight to what teachers can expect at mine.

Michael Fullan in his unpublished paper, Learning is the Work,  states that learning on the job, day after day, is the work teachers need to be committed to. With the mover towards collaborative learning and the fact fact that teachers learn best from their colleagues, the provision of a job embedded professional development program to foster teacher development is a must.

School principals take on the school leadership with a commitment to helping the school improve. A key mechanism for this is teacher professional development. How a leader approaches PD for teachers should be a consideration for teachers when looking for new positions!

Preparing For A New Year? Technology or Innovation or Do What We Did Last Year

Leadership
How will you start the new year? Will you provide the same learning experience as last year or do you have some new initiatives to experiment with?
Seymour Papert in 1993 was quoted as saying “Nothing is more absurd than an experiment to place computers in classrooms where nothing else has changed”.
Technology has certainly evolved in the proceeding years with the influence of smart phones, interactive software and the connectivity and accessibility of the internet enabling teachers to be more creativity and innovative in the delivery of learning. At their fingertips, teachers are providing blended learning experiences, offering opportunities to both consolidate as well as extending students’ (and their own) learning. Providing a more personalized and targeted learning experience is now being seen as an important strategy for the effective teacher.
There has been many changes to the resources at our fingertips to value add to the learning experience which brings me back to Seymour’s quote. Simply providing new resources, technology will not in itself make sustained improvement in student learning. As George Couros’ recent tweet ponders, is simply placing the latest technology in the classroom innovative practice?
There needs to be a change in pedagogy, the way the teacher delivers the learning. Instructing the same way, doing the same thing, albeit with different resources, will not have the required impact. Simply replacing traditional classroom furniture with contemporary furniture may look different but if the teacher is still standing and delivering content, not much will change for the student. However, the adoption of an inquiry pedagogy with a collaborative expectation, peer to peer engagement and an engaging assessment approach will.
There will be plenty of teachers trying not to reinvent the wheel by utilizing last years units of work. While this is a useful beginning point, how they meet the needs of their new students will be the focus of the effective teacher.
How will you prepare for the new year? What are you going to do differently this year to improve your teaching and make sustained learning gains for your students?

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!

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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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.