Student-led Expedition

On Christmas Eve, together with a team of Year 10 and 11 students, I returned from a 3-week expedition in Nepal. The team travelled backpacker style throughout the areas of Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan, soaking up the incredible culture, trekking through the Annapurna region of the Himalaya, viewing Mount Everest, and contributing to the rebuilding efforts of a school damaged via earthquakes in the medieval city of Bhaktapur.

This was not your ordinary school camp or tour however. This expedition was 100% student-led. Preparations began in March of 2017 as the team of students designed an itinerary, conducted travel simulation days at the You Yangs, raised funds for the community service project and developed skills of leadership, communication and budget management that would be soon put to use.

Each day in Nepal a student or group of students would be responsible for leading the group. Nothing was pre-booked, so these responsibilities included arranging accommodation for the night, transport, logistics and navigation, deciding on locations for breakfast, lunch and dinner, ensuring the team had enough drinking water and most importantly, managing the team budget.

Our Vision for Learning recognises that students require an awareness and understanding of not only themselves, but also the world in which they live. Students need to explore the world in a variety of ways to develop skills and attributes to communicate across cultures while expanding their awareness of the world’s complexities and learning to appreciate difference. By giving students opportunities to lead and make real decisions, they become skilled at making good decisions and develop a greater understanding of what it means to be a leader and indeed, a good citizen.

Students did both themselves and the College proud by showing resilience, perseverance, leadership skills, teamwork, confidence in travelling and being independent and self-sufficient. College programs like this student-led expedition empower young people to uncover their unique identity, develop life skills and embrace the world beyond their own borders through a combination of adventure, cultural immersion and experiential learning opportunities.

This Expedition to Nepal will become a permanent addition to our College calendar and is an exciting part of our commitment to student leadership development and community service.

The Geelong College Student-led Exhibition to Nepal, 2017 from CLRI on Vimeo

 

Speaking in Public

I do a fair bit of public speaking at internal workplace events like parent information evenings, parent dinners, staff briefings, chairing meetings, staff professional learning workshops, presentations to councils and boards, VCE information sessions and community events through our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation. I still speak at quite a few external events too, things like conference keynotes and workshops, facilitating panel discussions and chairing conferences.

Public speaking improves with deliberate practice and through studying the art and science of effective speaking and storytelling. I have no doubt about this as I used to be terrified of getting up in front of an audience. Sure, I still get nervous on occasion, but the minute I stop being slightly apprehensive about speaking in front of an audience is the moment I know I have become too comfortable.

Much planning goes into something like a keynote presentation but increasingly I am finding myself able to go off script and engage in a relatively unplanned presentation. This is absolutely true for smaller events where I am invited to provide a welcome speech or to provide a short presentation framing an evening.

Sometimes I still find value in writing out word for word what I am going to say. This doesn’t happen too often as I rarely have the luxury, but when I do I actually enjoy the process. I recently spoke at our Year 7 parent dinner to welcome exisiting and new families to our College. This is what I had to say.

Good Evening everyone. A warm welcome to you all on behalf of Dr Peter Miller, our Principal, who unfortunately can’t be here tonight as he is in Sydney on College-related business. My name is Adrian Camm and I am Director of Teaching and Learning here at the College and I have responsibility for the oversight, development and delivery of the College’s overall teaching and learning direction and the academic program from early learning through to Year 12. I am also the Director of our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation that seeks to develop our staff professionally but to also offer educational events throughout the year to students, teachers and parents in our wider community.

Please be sure to keep your eye on our bulletin and also on our Facebook page for our many free events this year focusing on contemporary teaching and learning approaches, women in leadership and advice for parents in dealing with the many issues and challenges that present themselves throughout a child’s teenage years.

This is my 12th year in education and my 5th here at the College. I have had the great honour and privilege of receiving some humbling awards in my career to date including being named Australian Teacher of the Year at the 2009 Australian Awards for Teaching Excellence and in 2012 receiving the ACCE & ACS National Outstanding Leader of the Year Award. As a result of these awards I have had the great privilege and honour of working with and in hundreds of schools around the world, across government, catholic and Independent sectors, in areas of Japan, China, the US, the UK, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Singapore and of course in different parts of Australia. Having seen what other schools and education systems are doing, I can safely say that the experience that Geelong College offers its young women and men is right up there with the best in the world.

Our teaching and learning programs are underpinned by our Vision for Learning which I encourage you all to access on our College website if you haven’t read it already. Our Vision for Learning describes our teaching and learning philosophy not in terms of discreet subjects, specifics or narrow measures, but in terms of seven holistic and conceptual dimensions: Enterprise, Creativity, Creating, Contributing, Identity, Communicating & Thinking and outlines how the most important aspect of a modern education is “learning how to learn.”

There are some parts of a modern education that look very similar to when you were all in school – we still want our children to be highly literate and numerate and to have strong moral and ethical principles, teachers still ‘teach’, but with the world changing rapidly a modern education now also requires that young people be skilled in the use of technology, be entrepreneurial, to be able to solve complex problems in complex and unfamiliar situations, to be adaptable, independent, flexible and to develop the disposition of curiosity – because throughout their lifetime they will need to continually be learning. Gone are the days when you got your education in secondary school and university and that then would hold you in good stead for the rest of your career. To succeed in the future our young women and men need to see themselves as true lifelong learners.

Our teachers recognize this and engage in constant learning themselves, modelling for our young people what it means to be a learner. Indeed 17 of our teaching staff have this year embarked on post-graduate research study to ensure we continue to adapt and stay at the forefront of current approaches to teaching and learning ensuring the best possible experience for our young people. I know each of our 135 teaching staff individually. And I know that each and every one of them work late into the night, every night, preparing for the next day, and when they come through the school gates each morning they are all asking themselves the same question – they are asking themselves, “How do I make the next 6.5 hours, the most rewarding, memorable, personalized and engaging, 6.5 hours of these young people’s lives?”

Whether you are new to the College in 2018 or have been with us for some years, we look forward to working closely with you all for many years to come, in a partnership, ensuring your children all exceed their potential and are well equipped to face a rapidly changing world. Wishing you all a fantastic evening of conversation, food, beer and wine and all the best for the rest of the year. Thank you very much. Have a great night.

Thanks for the Feedback

Why do we dwell on criticism buried among an abundance of compliments and affirmations?

Feedback on a person’s performance which is then used as a basis for improvement is a natural element of some professions. Take sports as an example. An athlete has a constant stream of feedback to contend with. Whether this is the coach giving instructions from the sidelines, the roar of the crowd, the morale of team members, the look on the face of the opponent, or the physiological data collected on their cadence, heart rate or recovery time between hard efforts. Further feedback is then delivered post-game by watching game footage and analyzing positions, technique, work rate, commitment to the contest, adherence to the team plan or general game sense. Feedback is a natural part of being a sports person. If we put in a poor performance we want to know why and learn from it.

Not all professions are this open to feedback, however. Educators respond to feedback in different ways and with varying levels of comfort. An adverse reaction to challenging feedback can challenge our sense of who we are and what we stand for. Our identities are tied to a story that we tell ourselves. When feedback is received that challenges this story, our emotional bands are stretched and the elasticity of our emotions factor into the way this feedback affects us both physically and emotionally.

Thankfully, Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone in Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, outline how receiving (and giving) feedback is a skill that can be developed by cultivating a curious disposition, active listening techniques, and adopting an empathetic system thinking approach to conversation.

When we receive feedback we can question the substance of the feedback itself and thus dismiss it as wrong or unhelpful but often issues arise when we question the motives of the feedback giver. Our previous interactions, their credibility, experience, expertise and our level of trust all influence whether we can disentangle the feedback giver from the feedback itself. Heen and Stone invite their readers to recognize that we each bring a unique frame of reference and usually only see part of the problem (the part that the other person is contributing). Systems thinking corrects for the skew in any single perspective. We can seek to understand by asking questions like, “Tell me more” or “I hadn’t thought of it that way. Can you give me an example?” or even “Can you help me get perspective on your feedback?”

One of my big takeaways from the book is the fact that we often have multiple issues present in any feedback conversation that confuse, disorient and lead to conflict. When this occurs we need to be explicit and signpost that this is the case with a statement like, “I think that there are two topics here. Let’s discuss each topic fully, but separately, as both are important. Ok. Let’s loop back to the start and start with the first topic.”

I found this book to be a great compliment to the work that I am doing in the Growth Coaching Accreditation Program and highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to further develop their ability to give and receive feedback.

CLRI Annual Report 2017

The Centre for Learning, Research & Innovation (CLRI) is a joint venture between The Geelong College, Deakin University and The Geelong College Foundation.

The Centre aims to provide people with the ability to affect beneficial change within their schools, institutions and organisations. We engage in research projects and create professional development opportunities, by recognising learning as an active, dynamic behaviour that emerges from interactions between the human brain and the social world.

Our 2017 Annual Report is now available.

Learn about what we accomplished in 2017 and our plans for the future.

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?

Do you have a user manual?

Transparency about how we work and learn, our preferences, values, beliefs, likes and dislikes, ultimately shortens the learning curve for your colleagues by making explicit the things that often take many years to learn through trial and error. A critical and candid self-reflection via the creation of a user manual is one way to practice radical candour and transparent leadership. A user manual is not static; rather it is a living piece of writing that captures a moment in time and articulates that you will always be a work in progress.

Inspired by the work of Adam Bryant and Kim Scott, this self-reflective exercise can serve as a prompt in identifying specific areas for personal growth, or it could be an activity a leadership team performs together as a discussion starter on how to become a more effective team.

Bryant recommends asking yourself questions like,

“Which activities give me energy, and which deplete me? What are my unique abilities, and how do I maximize the time I spend expressing them? What do people misunderstand about me, and why?”

Here is my first attempt.

I used to wag finger painting in Kinder so I guess I have always been a bit rebellious.

I identify with the tenants of progressive education but believe that there is always a place to learn directly from the instruction of others.

Your teaching style matters less to me than your attitude and dispositions toward the profession.

I enjoy exercise. In fact, I need it. Often I will squeeze in a run or a gym session on my lunch break. I make this a priority by scheduling it into my day and find that I am 100% more productive in the afternoons if I do.

I am constantly reflecting and learning. I value doing over perfection. I do not always know what I am doing and sometimes lack confidence, but I accept that, and just let my bias toward action guide me. I am committed to continuous improvement.

I have a diverse range of interests and believe that one of the best things you can bring to the workplace is a multitude of various and varied life experiences.

I believe in giving people freedom to do what they do best and then support in whatever way I can.

Intellectual stimulation energizes me. I enjoy turning challenges into opportunities. I enjoy working with people who are open to ideas and can explore possibilities.

Saying ‘thank you’ goes a long way.

I do not have patience for over-analysis of non-important issues and sometimes being in a discussion about semantics frustrates me. I also dislike grandstanding. If you have an issue come and see me and we can work through it. Do not wait until a public forum to air your concerns or issues for the first time.

I am fiercely loyal but if my confidence is broken it is hard to repair. Be open and honest, communicate with me and treat people around you in a friendly and professional way. When communicating I like to get to the point. I also like others to do the same. Please don’t talk in riddles. Say what you mean. Be yourself. Challenge and disagree with me because I value this. But please be respectful.

Communicating face to face with me is preferred, but sometimes if you require a thoughtful and considered response, an email can also work. I appreciate people telling me what I need to know, not what you think I want to hear.

I’m often working on many different projects so appreciate help making sure all the details are covered, and flagging for me any that need my attention.

Have empathy for others, as you never know the struggles they are going through.

I value difference and believe in diversity. High functioning teams have a range of experiences, expertise, skillsets and mindsets.

I want every member of my team to feel valued and empowered. I want you to feel supported in your quest to be a better version of yourself, because I believe we can all be better. 

This is not exhaustive by any stretch and still needs a bit of work, but it is something I look forward to revising and revisiting regularly.

LMS Evaluation & Selection

We have the great fortune of having some talented developers on staff. Many of our ICT platforms over the years have been custom developed to suit our needs at any given time. However, the reality of this current landscape, whilst operational, utilizes many disparate systems that lack cohesiveness, integration and certainly timely access to student data profiles.

Our College ICT Strategic Plan outlines the provision of a secure and integrated student information system that provides access to student learning information throughout a student’s life at the school, including learning pathways, assessment, reporting and data on student wellbeing. A recent review led to the development of a strategic intent that supports the internal business drivers and demands from external influences, but also sees us aim to increase the knowledge we have of our students, to increase the level of communication between home and school and to gain efficiencies by reducing the overall complexity of our systems and processes.

This has meant us adopting a new Learning Management System (LMS) for 2018. Our LMS evaluation and selection process took place over a twelve-month period (yes you read that right) and involved five major steps: needs analysis, requirements definition, product evaluation, staff consultation and product selection.

The market is saturated with different products including Schoolbox, Canvas, Schoology, Edumate, Moodle & SEQTA. We have decided to go with SEQTA.

All staff across our College had the opportunity to view a demonstration of different platforms on multiple occasions. This followed by opportunities to provide feedback that has informed the process at different levels. Although this is a time consuming process, involving staff in the evaluation process results in them having greater ownership of the resulting decision. No matter how much you communicate and consult however, you will still have some staff who are critical of the process. Identifying and engaging with critical staff and having them involved right from the outset is something I would definitely advocate for those going down a similar path.

These platforms often promote conformity and tie you to a single way of doing things. This is problematic considering that my modus operandi is to promote bottom-up innovation and to encourage people to use the tools and resources that work best for them. That being said, I think there is a nice middle ground when an LMS provides a central repository for attendance, welfare, analytics & continuous reporting, but doesn’t require the use of the course creation modules.

For those going down a similar path I have included below a copy of our LMS Research Timeline and proposed implementation plan for our preferred platform SEQTA.

Reach out for a discussion if you are doing something similar.

Finding Joy

Life is full of challenges and adversity. Obstacles and tragedy can seem overwhelmingly unfair. We lose loved ones; we deal with unexpectedness and become grim acquaintances with grief. Often this requires a self-explanation like “everything happens for a reason.” I have used this platitude myself recently as a way of explaining away the mysteries of life.

The impact of losing people close to you creates a deep sadness. The raw emotions of despair and compassion filter through acknowledgement of the pain. Introspection at times like this can leave you wondering about life’s purpose. During these moments, I have come to realize that life in and of itself has no inherent purpose. You have to find your own purpose. This acknowledgment empowers resilience. You realize that nothing lasts forever and that often the greatest moments come after the dark. Kahlil Gibran captures this in saying that “the deeper sorrow carves into our being the more joy we can contain.”

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Option B, explores adversity and the concept of post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth is a change of perspective in finding greater meaning in life and a stronger sense of purpose rooted in something of significance. After tragedy, some find this in work or family, some in religion, and others through athletic endeavours. Finding this purpose creates joy. Paying attention to moments of joy takes effort however, because we focus on the negatives more than the positives. This is our built-in negativity bias. Yet negativity bias is not real. Your thoughts are only what you decide to believe in and continually reinforce in your mind.

Last Friday we received news that Lainey Carr had lost her battle with cancer. Lainey was our first administration assistant at our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation.

Lainey brought joy and positivity to everything that she did. Lainey didn’t dwell on the negative, even towards the end. Thinking of Lainey today I am imagining her saying something along the lines of “Today is a wonderful day – find joy in what you do and live life in the present.”

Building Capital

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu identifies cultural capital as the assets an individual possesses in terms of financial and social resources, in conjunction with an individual’s knowledge, status and formal qualifications.

Professional capital is defined by Hargreaves and Fullan as a function of human capital (the talent of individuals); social capital (the collaborative power of the group); and decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgments about learners).

Professional capital is essentially about the growth and development of the people within a school. In The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, Fullan suggests we need to “reposition the role of the principal as overall instructional leader.” I argue that it cannot just be the principal; it needs to be all leaders across a school – a united team focused on leading learning for teachers and students.

The question “how do you ensure accountability?” then becomes “how do we create the right conditions for all staff to grow and develop?” This necessitates a shift away from measuring, supervising and evaluating teachers to a more trusting and collaborative approach focused on growth and development.

Call it naïve optimism but I firmly believe that if you invest in capacity building or in the growing of capital, people will automatically become more accountable. Firstly to themselves and their own learning, but also to their peers, their students and their workplace.