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.