Support for New Teachers

When new teachers arrive at a school they are often provided a mentor. Depending on the mentor’s experience, personality and disposition, the experience for the incoming teacher can be variable. At Geelong College we didn’t really have a process in place to support incoming teachers nor their assigned mentors. This was mainly due to the fact that we had such a stable staff and low turnover that it wasn’t really required.

As this changed we needed something in place to support mentors with this important job as it is essential that a new or beginning teacher recieves a high level of support, especially in their first years of teaching and in particular, their first term in the school.

As part of our new staff induction program we got all mentors together for an old school briefing and provided them a checklist or a minimum expectations framework to guide the support of their new colleague. The briefing covered the following main points:

  • It is essential that the new or beginning teacher recieves a high level of support, especially in their first term in the school. Keep in mind that, at this stage, the beginning teacher may not be ready to be mentored in terms of intensive professional dialogue. They do need a buddy to help with oreintation to the profession and/or the workplace. A buddy can then grow into a mentor.
  • At the very beginning of the year it is imperative that those in mentor roles ensure that new staff are aware of logistical and operational College matters by following the checklist provided (this will be listed below.)
  • Mentoring is essentially a formalised relationship that supports and encourages professional learning. When a new teacher is ready for this to take place, a number of structural elements supporting the relationship will be put in place including; regular and timetabled meeting times between the mentor and mentoree, close physical proximity in terms of office space where possible and the mentor assigned will usually be in the same school and where possible the same subject area.

Support for New Staff Checklist

Mentors are expected to contact new staff to welcome them to the College. This could be via email or phone, but in person is even better. If the new staff member is to commence at the start of the year then mentors should brief them about the staff professional learning program that is held at the start of each school year. If the new staff member is commencing at some point throughout the year, the mentors should arrange to meet prior to them commencing.

First Day

Mentors should meet with new staff on the new staff orientation day, prior to the staff professional learning progrm commencing. They will spend the afternoon with them at their respective campus, stepping them through College operations. They wil also liaise with the College eLearning leader, to have a session on ICT platforms and procedures if it should be required. If the new staff commencement date is at some point throughout the year, then mentors will need to make different arrangements to ensure the new staff feel at ease and welcome.

Mentor Checklist

The following items should be covered by the mentor upon commencement of the new staff member:

  1. Laptop has been collected and appropriate ICT support has been arranged including email access, and different ICT platforms have been logged into and can be navigated. This includes a brief introduction to the College Portal. Helpdesk support is also explained.
  2. Keys – have been distributed and any alarm codes given out.
  3. Parking – where to park.
  4. Bathrooms.
  5. Introduction to key College personnel such as Heads of School, Library staff and appropriate Administration staff.
  6. Term dates and school calander.
  7. Teaching timetables have been downloaded, yard duty and common room rosters, location of rooms shown, bell times and 10 day cycle all explained.
  8. Dress code for staff.
  9. Ensure office space is allocated and new staff member has access to required stationary.
  10. A pigeon hole has been assigned and new staff member knows where this is.
  11. Phone extensions and ensuring new staff member is on the phone directory but also knows where to access numbers and how to use phone.
  12. Remind new staff member of new staff handbook that is available.
  13. Relevant policies and procedures have been explained.
  14. Co-curricular information has been given out, and if appropriate, sports uniform organized.
  15. Mentor/Tutor responsibilities explained if appropriate.
  16. Informal discussions about the expectations of the teaching role and responsibilities.
  17. Meetings – which meetings they will be expected to attend and where.
  18. Class role marking expectations.
  19. Morning tea for staff, use of kitchen, coffee and canteen arrangements.
  20. What to do if sick or absent from the College for any reason.
  21. Support with ongoing reporting or report writing cycles and parent/teacher interviews.
  22. Ongoing support ie. regularly liaise with the Director of Teaching and Learning and the new staff member ensure beginning teacher is tracking well and clear of VIT expectations for gathering evidence for full registration etc.
  23. There are plenty of social events at the College that staff are expected to attend. Make sure you keep an eye out for your mentoree at these events and ensure they feel included by introducing them to others.
  24. Be friendly, a good listener and ask good questions.

I am sure many checklists like this exist, but this one seems to work quite well for us.

Anything missing?

Celebrating who we are

This short film is the result of a collaboration between our digital media guru Sam McIntosh and year 12 Media student Ollie Manton from the Geelong College.

Ollie stated, “The journey began on paper, concepts were drawn, presented and approved. Then the various film shoots were planned and shot. We used a variety of cameras; a #BlackMagicURSA, #PanasonicGH5, #Canon5D & 7D, an OSMO and a drone.”

The film was ‘co-shot’ and ‘co-edited’ across file hosting service Dropbox. Sam and Ollie would meet at various points to discuss the direction and styling of the film. Always sharing ideas and thoughts, the two passionate film-makers made light work of a large project. “Many of our catch ups were more about picking apart Christopher Nolan films or how to do particular shots with specific cameras. The catch ups were always fun and collaborative.”

Students and teachers working together is central to the Geelong College Vision for Learning.

Inspiring work by Sam and Ollie.

Assessment Focus Group

Back at the beginning of 2015 I established an assessment focus group at the College. It existed for less than a year and was part of a long term strategy around creating accelerator networks to overcome static and entrenched ways of thinking. By-passing the traditional hierarchy, it attempted to create agency and a more responsive and distributed platform for our staff to contribute to the future direction of the school.

I put out a call for expressions of interest via email and let participants know that we would be meeting twice a term for twelve months. I was looking for representation from each of our Junior, Middle and Senior schools and got 17 members – usually I would keep focus groups much smaller than this but I wanted to get as many people from each of the three schools involved as I could. The purpose was to create a space for dialogue that moved beyond using the terms assessment, reporting and grading interchangeably, and to change the student culture of anxiety about performance, to one of curiousity about what intellectual journey might lay before them. It took a great deal of effort and re-focusing to ensure that conversations remained about assessment as they inevitably (almost inexorably) drifted towards grading or reporting.

We workshopped ideas. People contributed research articles or blogs for discussion. Sub-committees formed and visited other schools. We looked at our current assessment profile across the College. And best of all, after some vigorous debate and discussion, we created actions that led to the creation and introduction of new policies and practices.

I recently found the following summary of one of our focus group meetings.

Can we rethink the basic tenets of teaching and learning and evaluate what students have done in a manner more consistent with our Vision for Learning? This is the question that has driven the discussion of the assessment focus group.

Our most superficial concerns have usually involved the practicalities of how to grade students’ work. Do we use a 5 point scale? A 6 point scale? What are the grade cut-offs? Do we use a normative or criterion referenced approach? We often put emphasis on how to detect plagiarism, rather than focusing on creating better assessments. This focus reinforces and reproduces the traditional paradigm of “test, grade, test, grade” and as a result many students become conditioned to this routine. Students then only engage in learning to a certain extent. They learn not deeply, but deep enough in order to learn how to play the game of assessment that is in front of them. Worse still, this paradigm can be damaging for many students as it reinforces self-narrative and familial discourse such as “I’m no good at maths.”

The discussions and workshops throughout our focus group meetings have attempted to move beyond this. Here we have debated and argued about the importance and necessity of allocating students a grade at every opportunity. We have debated the difference between a student in Year 1 and a student in Year 9. We unpacked the difference between assessment, feedback, grading and reporting. We workshopped alternative methods of assessment in order to provide a more meaningful approach that includes portfolios and a more formative focus on student understanding and progress.

After several meetings, almost unanimously the group recommendation is that:

Grades are only given to students on end of semester reports (EL-10) supported by a consistent ongoing online reporting/feedback/progress system, further supported by digital portfolios. In this case, ongoing reporting replaces end of semester reports.

This was a nice find as I clean up the files on my old laptop and a chance for me to reflect on how far we have come on this journey. This group did some great work and contributed to a more diverse assessment portfolio across the College, the introduction of new ongoing reporting platform and the introduction of a new College-wide assessment policy that I include below. I actually believe the policy is an exemplar policy because it is concise and underpinning it is the fact that we trust the professionals in our workplace to enact it in a way that is relevant to their area.

Get in touch if you would like to know more.

Assessment Policy

Purpose
The primary purpose of assessment is to help improve student learning. This process should develop students’ capacity to reflect on their learning and to assist their progress towards becoming independent learners. A secondary purpose of assessment is to provide teachers and parents with feedback about teaching and learning practices.

Policy Statement
The Geelong College assessment policy is informed by research and best practice. There is an expectation that discipline areas will draw on assessment research relevant to their field to underpin how this policy is implemented.

The statements below outline the principles of assessment at the College.

  1. Assessment must reflect the values of the College
  2. Assessment practices should be consistent with the College’s Vision for Learning, including a range of formative, summative, self and peer assessment strategies.
  3. Assessment practices must be conducted and undertaken ethically and with honesty and integrity by staff and students.
  4. An appropriate and diverse assessment portfolio in and across each subject area should demonstrate an articulation and application of knowledge and understanding, skills and competencies.
  5. The design of any assessment should take into account the requirement for timely, meaningful and constructive feedback to be given to students on their assessments.
  6. Assessment practices and processes must be continuously monitored for quality assurance and improvement purposes.
  7. It is expected that assessment tasks are assessed with clear expectations and this can include normative and criterion-referenced approaches.

Responsibility for implementation
Director of Teaching and Learning
Heads of School
Deputy Heads of School
Heads of Department
Curriculum Coordinators

Relevant policies
Reporting
Grading
Vision for Learning

Thinking in Bets

“Wanna bet?”

Former Poker Pro Annie Duke argues that offering a bet in any situation makes us refine and examine our beliefs, temper our generalizations and get closer to the truth by acknowledging the risk inherent in what we think we believe versus what we actually believe. By attempting to make explicit what is already implicit, we develop exploratory thought patterns that encourage open-mindedness and a more objective consideration of alterative hypotheses. By embracing uncertainty we can uncover biases and make better decisions. Acknowledging uncertainty then becomes an acknowledgment of a complex and uncertain world so that we are less likely to think in binaries, and more likely to think in probabilities.

In Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts, Duke provides a framework for decision-making that includes a variety of techniques, ideas and strategies for dealing with bias. Duke argues that organized scepticism needs to encouraged and operationalized. By providing permission and space for dissent, we invite others to play devil’s advocate by presenting the other side of the argument, to argue why a strategy might be ill-advised, why a prediction might be off, or why an idea might be ill-informed. By considering all perspectives the best decision can then be made. In order for this to become part of the fabric of how teams operate, some clear parameters need to be established so that dissent does not become about shooting the message or the messenger, but rather an open exploration of multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

Other good ideas for developing strategy with teams that resonated include;

    • Scenario Planning or Future Reconnaissance – identify possible future outcomes and assign a probability for each occurring. Build a decision tree and determine probabilities of different futures based on the information you have at your disposal.
    • Backcasting – working backwards from a positive future. Imagine you have already achieved a positive outcome, holding up a newspaper with the headline “We achieved our goal!” Then think about how we got there. A team leader asks the group to identify the reasons why they achieved their goal, what events occurred, what decisions were made and what went there way in order for this to happen. This enables identification of strategies, tactics and actions that need to be implemented to get to the goal.
    • Premortem – reveals the negative space. Imagine the headline “We failed to reach our goal.” A team leader then challenges the team to consider things that could go wrong. A premortem is an implementation of the Mertonian norm of organized scepticism. Once we frame the exercise as “Ok, we failed. Why did we fail?” that frees everyone to identify potential points of failure they otherwise might not see or might not bring up for fear of being viewed as a naysayer.

I read many books each year and don’t often take the time to summarize or reflect. It’s something I am working on going into 2019.

Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts is a book that gets a little repetitive at times but provides some useful frameworks and excellent anecdotes about decision-making.

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.