Turning the Page

Only when you turn the page do you find out what happens next.

At the end of the year I will be leaving The Geelong College and finishing my role as Director of Teaching and Learning and also as Director of our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation.

Goodbyes are particularly hard when you have grown to love what you are leaving. I will miss the staff, the students and the families that I have worked with so closely over the past five years. It has been an honour to work alongside some of the most dedicated and impressive teachers I have ever come across. I’ve learned so much during my time at the College, and so many people have been a big part of that. The encouragement, support and guidance of those in the community have allowed us to create a unique culture of camaraderie; one that I hope will continue for many years to come.

I am excited to announce that in 2019 I will be starting a new role as Deputy Principal at Mentone Grammar.

New adventures await.

But before they do, I will be sharing and celebrating stories here over the next three months. Stories about the inspirational people, programs and approaches that make The Geelong College such a special place.

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?

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.

The Inevitable

Technology is an inexorable force for change that is accelerating the evolution of our species, argues Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future. He shares 12 forces that are shaping our immediate and not so immediate future, all fascinating, but a chapter titled ‘Screening’ really captured my attention.

Historically culture revolved around the oral tradition of lecture and storytelling but was disrupted by the mass production and access to books through the invention and spread of the printing press.

In the subsequent years, an author was considered an authority, with the ever present and fixed nature of the written word etched in ink, that could be referenced, referred to and cited with the understanding that what was written was true, verifiable and immovable.

The ubiquity of digital screens and the ability for amateur creators to publish, journal, share and comment has created an interesting period of tension with the segmentation of people into two categories that Kelly refers to as the People of the Book and the People of the Screen. People of the screen prefer the dynamic flux of pixels – the fluidity and flow of ideas, opinions, tweets, half-baked thoughts, memes and social commentary. Truth is no longer what is written, but rather the assembly of multiple streams of information interpreted, evaluated and re-interpreted through an individual and social construction and reconstruction of truth. Authors and authority are not given the same weight as an individual seeks to discover for themselves the validity of that which appears through their state of conscious and unconscious acquisition of knowledge and evaluation of arguments, counter arguments and opposing viewpoints.

Truth with a capital T, becomes truths, plural. Is this what we might refer to as a post-truth society? Maybe. Maybe not.

The call for children in schools to be able to distinguish between the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ is the necessity for them to develop finely tuned bullshit detectors as they navigate a multiplicity of streams of information from different sources. I sit right in the middle of this Book V Screen tension. Having grown up with the first personal computers and gaming consoles (hello Atari 2600), I find that I read a ridiculous amount on a screen. I also read many books each year. I am currently studying a PhD which requires me to search online databases of relevant literature. I find that if I want to read something deeply however, I prefer a hardcopy. A print out of a research paper allows me to physically highlight relevant sections. Indeed, the tactile sensation of a hardcover volume somehow facilitates a deeper contemplative state. Why is this? I’m not sure but my guess is that a hardcopy text creates a more relaxed and passive conscious state as opposed to the activeness, interconnectedness and hyperlinked online environment.

Herbert Simon is quoted as saying that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” and this creates for me an interesting conundrum. What do I focus my attention on? Is it ok to wander down a rabbit hole of ideas, new media and tangentially related topics? Do I read a paperback non-fiction book or do I read it on a kindle and allow the sharing of my highlighted passages and annotations with an almost unlimited audience? Is reading a solitary or a social pursuit? Can I benefit from the collective commentary of and interaction with potentially thousands of other readers or am I ok with individual contemplation and reflection?

Kelly suggests that much like Wikipedia, the future is a state where all the books in the world combined with all the digital text on the web will become a single liquid fabric or interconnected world of ideas. This is both exciting and terrifying. A challenge to the identities of the People of the Book for sure. Identity, capital I, is a focus of my research as I seek to uncover the factors that inhibit and enhance an individuals ability to engage in identity formation and reformation.

In a recent Virtual Reality (VR) experiment at Stanford University, participant’s arms became their legs and their legs became their arms. That is to kick in VR, participants had to punch with their arms in ‘real life.’ This experiment resulted in what I think is a mind blowing outcome – it took a person on average four minutes to completely rewire the feet/arm circuitry in their brains to make this feel natural and allow action without conscious decision-making.

Our identities are far more fluid than we think and despite the tension that always exists between the new and the old, perhaps Marshall McLuhan was right when he said, “first we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”

How We “Learn”

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens is not so much a book about learning but more the Cognitive Psychology of memorization. If you’re looking for general learning strategies or research into more effective ways of learning, you won’t find that here.

What you will find is a synthesis of cognitive psychology research that contradicts many of the long held beliefs about how the brain works. Much of it makes sense to me even though I wasn’t expecting a book about learning to be solely focused on memorization.

Through an examination of the literature, the author suggests that to optimize study that seeks memorization of facts as an outcome, an individual should;

  • Not have a quiet study zone as distractions can aid learning. Taking a break and checking facebook allows for incubation and may actually facilitate a solution;
  • Study in different locations as this can enhance memorization;
  • Engage in spaced repitition, varied practice and interleaving, that is spacing short regular study periods and mixing related but distinct material during study leads to transferrability. Repitition of the same skill over and over again has the potential to create a powerful and dangerous illusion. The illusion of fluency or actually knowing. With traditional ‘drill and kill’ repitition, skills improve quickly and then plateau. Transferrability is also suspect in this case. By contrast, varied practice produces a slower apparent rate of improvement in each single practice session but a greater accumulation of skill and learning over time;
  • Recite what you are learning out loud;
  • Start something early, leave it for an extended period, and then come back to it often;
  • Procrastinate as this leads to percolation, and this is a good thing for a motivated learner.

A interesting perspective on memorization and how we can benefit from the distractions of everyday life.

STEM Curriculum for our Future

Curriculum hasn’t had a transformation in over 100 years and yet the world has changed dramatically in that period of time. Whilst the current system demands that students be prepped for final examinations in traditional fields, report after report cites the continual decline of student engagement in science and mathematics and the subsequent affect this will have on Australia’s innovation future.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. There is nothing stopping us from innovating within the confines of the existing system and radically altering the way we approach the teaching and learning within these fields. I propose the following list as one that is incredibly interesting, interdisciplinary, relevant and at the frontier of our future;

Programming, Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles, Entrepreneurship, Quantum Computing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, Robotics, Cryptography, Synthetic Biology, Global Positioning Systems, Smart Health Care Applications, Biotechnology, Bio-engineering, Aged Care Services, Brain-Computer Interaction, Alternate Energy, Big Data, Nanotechnology, Intelligence Augmentation, Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Blockchain, Universal Basic Income, Web Development.

This is stuff that is for the most part accessible for students and teachers and would provide an interesting and viable context to increase engagement, maintain rigour and increase participation rates.

Dispositions of Teacher Learners

What are the dispositions of those teachers who naturally see themselves as learners and chief investigators of their own practice? What are the enabling and contextual factors?

This is what I am trying to find out through my PhD studies. My contention is that certain default and perhaps tacit understandings can predispose an individual to be unable to engage in the necessary formation and reformation of professional identity that is required to engage in new learning. This inhibiting behaviour results in an individual essentially “shutting up shop.” The inverse is also true however, and those teachers who are able to have multi-membership of different communities of practice within the broader landscape of practice seem to be at home in this process of identity formation and reformation. The insightful and intuitive organic dispositions of these individuals enable them to disregard boundaries and instead seamlessly cross boundaries of community, competence, knowledgeability and self-narrative whilst engaging in a multiplicity of practices within a specific context. This is what some might refer to as being innovative.

I’ve even started working on a model. It’s still early days but much of my current work is investigating Polanyi, Nonaka, Brock, Dreyfus, Agyris, Schon, Wenger, Beauchamp and Thomas.

model-diagram

Competencies and Capabilities

Young people need to acquire both competencies and capabilities if they are to be successful entering a rapidly changing world of work and life. Competency is the proven ability in acquiring knowledge and skills, while capability is learner confidence in his or her competency and, as a result, the ability to formulate and solve problems in both familiar, unfamiliar and changing situations. Reading the VCAA Chief Examiners reports each year in every subject, it is very apparent that learner capability is something that we can improve upon.

Capable young people exhibit the following traits: self-efficacy, in knowing how to learn and how to continuously reflect on the learning process; communication and teamwork skills, working well with others, creativity, particularly in applying competencies to new and unfamiliar situations and by being adaptable and flexible in approach.

In a heutagogical approach to teaching and learning, learners are highly autonomous and self-determined and emphasis is placed on development of learner capacity and capability with the goal of producing learners who are well-prepared for the complexities of a changing world. They are able to deal with uncertainties because they have been given the opportunity to be self-directed, autonomous and independent and are encouraged to learn by doing, to take risks, make mistakes and embrace failures. Discipline becomes more about self-discipline than classroom management techniques.

The rapidly changing, multi-disciplinary nature of the 21st century requires us to move beyond our own subject areas and see this challenge as one of agency and personal empowerment. Engineering and art have always been interrelated but perhaps even more so now. Computer programming in University is mandatory for most biologists, musicians and historians. Mathematicians, statisticians and scientists primary intellectual tool is now that of the computer. Robotics and automation will transform and revolutionize the way many disciplines and businesses operate. 3D printers are now a mainstream tool for Dentists, Prosthetists and many other medical professionals. The world has changed. We can do our children no better service than to introduce them to these powerful ideas that will develop their capabilities and shape the rest of their lives.

An in-depth knowledge, skillset and expertise of a particular specialization is still absolutely important, but increasingly major discoveries are happening at the interstices between disciplines and this requires depth in a specific field but also an ability and the capability to see and make connections more broadly.

 

Learning Projects – Three Years In

Each Tuesday afternoon, instead of traditional meetings, teaching staff at our College engage in either an individual or collaborative Learning Project.

Learning Projects in our context are defined as an embedded form of action research where staff strive to learn something new, deepen their knowledge base, stay current with new developments in learning or experiment with an innovation that aims to improve student outcomes. All Learning Projects are underpinned by a big idea or driving question that is relevant to the individual. Staff then present their progress to their peers on our staff learning day at the beginning of term 4 each year.

With this year being the third year of the concept, I have noticed the transformation in the way many of our staff now position themselves within their own profession. The democratisation of learning and knowledge in many ways is seen across a broad landscape of ideas and practice. Shifts in confidence and identity are matched by the increasing depth and breadth of discussions focused on learning.

The way we structure the day is similar in format to a conference. We start the day with an address from the Principal, followed by three mini-keynotes or spotlight presentations from our staff that exemplify quality learning projects across our three schools. To kick start the day this year we had the following three spotlights:

  • Junior School – Using iPads to Enhance Learning within a Reggio-inspired Classroom
  • Middle School – Thinking and Learning in a Maker-Centred Classroom
  • Senior School – Different ways of Teaching Mathematics: A Perspective through Emotions

After this, our staff selected breakout sessions that they could attend for the remainder of the day with sessions including a diverse range of topics such as;

  • Developing a Collaborative Learning Culture
  • War of the Worlds – Interdiscplinary Learning in the Secondary Years
  • Cultural Diversity – Multiculturalism or Transculturalism
  • Bringing Reggio Emilia into the Music Classroom
  • Cultures of Thinking in the Primary Years
  • Introverts and Learning
  • Team Teaching in Year 7&8 Science
  • Investigating the Design Process
  • MOOCs for Professional Learning

The positive outcomes of such a concept are many, not least making professional learning an active instead of a passive pursuit. One success that we are particularly proud of is the fact that we have seventeen teaching staff from across the College now interested in starting postgraduate research in 2017 with our partner, Deakin University.

Our Vision for Learning really comes to life when we have our staff leading and modelling for our students what it actually means to be a lifelong learner.

Thoughts on Pedagogy and Space

Pedagogy and space are inextricably linked. They are not mutually exclusive. Progressive pedagogies can exist within even the most traditional of spaces, as can traditional pedagogies in the most modern and contemporary space. Space shouldn’t be used as an excuse for a particular approach to teaching and learning but often schools are restricted by their physical space and lack the necessary budgets or locations to physically change the infrastructure of their buildings.

So without access to new buildings and significant budgets for new furniture what can be done to transform existing spaces? Here are four simple things that can disrupt the traditional way of thinking about how a classroom environment operates.

1. Remove the front of the room

Arrange the room so that there is no “front” of the room. This is actually easier than it sounds with some judicious placing and rearranging of existing furniture. What this does is change the dominant paradigm of teacher standing at the front, students facing the teacher, and teacher delivering the required information to students. Our Vision for Learning talks about what we believe when it comes to pedagogy – “We believe that the preferred kind of pedagogy is learner-centred and learner-driven, project-based and experiential by nature, interspersed with purposeful periods of direct instruction.” Purposeful is the key word here as direct instruction is still important but it shouldn’t be the dominant style of pedagogy.

2. Create multiple focal points

This supports the idea of removing the front of the room. Instead of purchasing an expensive interactive whiteboard or a 90″ LCD screen, purchase 4 smaller LCD screens and position them either on stands or mounted on swivels at various locations around the room. Also provide a wireless presentation gateway to each room.  We use the WiPG-2000 as a wireless presentation gateway which allows a single device to project to multiple screens or for a screen to have 4 devices connected to it simultaneously as a 4-way split screen. This allows students and teachers to connect, share and collaborate in new and various ways.

3. Have less chairs than students

This one is simple. Have less chairs than students. This can cause a serious rethink about how a class operates.

4. Create different height work spaces

This doesn’t necessarily require the purchase of new furniture, just get creative. We have used old student lockers as standing work spaces, or have reused old whiteboards and re-purposed them as collaborative work tables.