Knowledge is Important

I teach a Year 8 interdisciplinary subject called F1 in Schools. Over the length of a semester, students have the opportunity to design a Formula 1 racing vehicle using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, engage in mathematical modelling, analyze computational fluid dynamics by using a virtual wind tunnel and then construct their design using both additive and subtractive manufacturing technologies. The program inspires students to learn about engineering, physics, aerodynamics, design, manufacturing, leadership, teamwork, media skills and project management, and then apply them in practical, creative and exciting ways.

I have written about this program before here.

Last Thursday I had the best class of the year and funnily enough, it had very little to do with F1. The students came into class talking about the movie Interstellar. I decided to gently engage the twenty-five boys in some questioning. This led to a discussion about philosophy and science and the difference between classical and modern physics. I introduced them to Newton’s main ideas and how we believed these to be universally true until Einstein came along. We spoke about Einstein’s theory of special relativity. I asked them to research the Twin Paradox. We discussed gravity, the law of addition of velocities, the speed of light, wave/particle duality, the difference between a scalar and a vector, and the nature of time and space. The students discussed the consequences of space travel, colonization of planets and the implications for our current notions of family.

Engagement was off the charts. I am talking about palpable energy as students furiously engaged in conversation and debate with each other, only pausing momentarily to ask me another question before having their minds blown as they discussed possibilities, scenarios and consequences with each other. We probably covered a semesters worth of university-level physics in fifty minutes. These are not your typical boys who are interested in science either. One boy asked if we could continue this conversation for the last few weeks instead of F1 in Schools. Three boys I walked past on my way to the common room were explaining special relativity to other students in the yard in a passionate and animated way. A group of five boys came back to me at the end of the day excitedly explaining to me that because it takes eight minutes for light to travel from the sun to the earth, that in fact, we were living in the past.

I could deviate in this way and engage students in this conversation because I had the pre-requisite knowledge and expertise to do so. But I also did this because I know the value of responding to student interest. A curriculum can never be something that you just pick up off the shelf and rigidly enforce or impose on kids. You need to be fluid and responsive, not set and rigid.

Knowledge is important. I believe in teachers having expertise. I believe in purposeful periods of direct instruction. I also believe in inquiry. Theories of learning should inform our pedagogy and a constructivist perspective most certainly develops a disposition of active inquiry through both a learning and teaching lens. Guiding students in developing a deep understanding through inquiry is an incredibly sophisticated and nuanced approach to teaching and one that can only be achieved by having access to stores of knowledge in specific domains.

Off to talk more Physics with the eager and inquiring young minds of tomorrow.

Pause and Reflect

Around this time each year, I pause and reflect on the goals that I set back in January. I have realized for the first time that I actually follow quite a predictable pattern. With different projects at various stages of development and implementation, plans and initiatives underway for the following year, recruitment and the constant flux of relationship management across the school, the weight of the year can tend to weigh heavily on your mind. You can fall into a trap of letting the small number of negatives outweigh the many positives.

As I review the goals I had set for myself, I realize that I have achieved far more than I even set out to achieve. Given that I usually set quite ambitious goals, this period of reflection is a chance to look back on what I have accomplished in the past twelve months and to give some much-needed self-congratulations.

I look back on the successes (and failures), the wins, the moments of learning and the significant areas of personal and professional progress. As I reflect, I ask myself what I would do differently given the opportunity. I do not dwell on it, however. I pause and savour the moment, and then move on.

Each year I collect some data to help inform my future directions. In 2015, I completed the Genos Emotional Intelligence (EI) 360 survey, the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People 360 survey and a self-assessment using Paul Browning’s rubric for assessing trust and transformational leadership practice. I also used this rubric in 2016 and 2017. I have scheduled a Genos EI 360 survey for February of 2018 and it will be interesting to see how I have progressed.

My goals this year were on three areas – Developing Relationships and Trust, Enhancing Learning Culture and Personal Development and are listed below.

Developing Relationships and Trust

  • Visit classes for thirty minutes every day
  • Attend morning tea daily rotating across the three schools
  • Timetable fortnightly meetings with key people
  • Spend time equally across the three schools
  • Empower the Leaders of Learning and build a cohesive team to lead the different priorities of the three schools
  • Embed the GROWTH model of coaching into my daily interactions with others
  • Ensure accountability by always having actions after each meeting or conversation
  • Ensure graduates are supported throughout the VIT full registration process
  • Seek ways to affirm and thank staff members, publicly and privately, every day

Enhancing Learning Culture

  • Continue to provide permission to innovate
  • Engage staff in a managed process for focused collaborative review and improvement using both our Vision for Learning and Rubicon Atlas
  • Streamline and improve professional learning administrative processes
  • Develop a leadership development program informed by a coaching way of being
  • Drive the Centre for Learning, Research & Innovation’s strategic priorities and vision of success (See CLRI strategic plan)
  • Implementation of a new LMS that supports ongoing assessment and reporting and pastoral and data tracking across the College
  • Support staff in further developing an understanding of a Reggio-inspired approach in the Junior School
  • Develop the year seven model of contemporary team teaching and learning
  • Examine VCE data and engage key staff in determining an improvement strategy
  • Lead an elective review at year nine
  • Enhance experiential learning opportunities
  • Continue to drive Digital Portfolio rollout strategy
  • Meeting structure review in conjunction with Heads of School and Leaders of Learning
  • Develop an improved process for the placement of pre-service teachers across the College.
  • Conduct twenty-four recorded video observations of teaching practice and engage staff in dialogue

Personal Development

  • Sit colloquium for PhD candidature and begin collecting data
  • Collect 50% of data for PhD
  • Gain Growth Coaching International Accreditation
  • Train for a base level of fitness for Nepal Trek in December
  • Spend more quality time with family

Whilst I am happy with the progress made in most of these areas this year, being visible remains the biggest challenge of having a multi-campus role. One strategy for being visible that I recently come across was a Principal who every morning writes and hand delivers birthday cards to every student and staff member. A big commitment but one that quickly becomes non-negotiable through community expectation.

What strategies do you use to remain visible?