Sunday, 28 October 2012

21st Century Learning...

Yesterday, our region had an ICT Conference. The event was held at my school and teachers were in attendance from other local schools, as well as further remote schools. It was nice to see a good turnout of teachers for this event that was held on a Saturday - a good sign of commitment to ongoing learning and development.

We thought it was important to have an overarching theme / message, as well as some sort of framework for the sessions that we'd run on the day [instead of having a 'random' collection of topics... ]. We decided to go with the main theme of how do we learn in the 21st century. Underneath this would be three sub-themes that framed the content of each of the workshops held during the day:

  1. consume
  2. create
  3. communicate / collaborate
Having considered a range of topics and foci for the one-hour workshops we offered, we had to filter down to nine [offered over three sections of the day] for teachers, plus three for parents and students. 

My first bit was on Learning with Video Games. We had lots of opportunity to try out some different popular games [using X-Boxes, a Wii, iPads and laptops], but also had time for the 'walk through', or 'tutorial', to borrow from the terminology of video games... 

My second bit was on Blogging. Again, I wanted this session to focus on people 'doing the work' - I was looking to build in some discussion about the educational benefits, etc, but the first priority was for participants to experience the blogging process, themselves.

We followed this main part of the day with an hour of short [10 minutes], informal sessions, for which anybody could lead and participants were able to pick and choose on the spot what they wanted to learn about. Not quite an 'unconference', but in that ball park of being participant-driven [people had complete autonomy about where they went], demoting the notion of the 'expert', as well as promoting openness and sharing

Bit of a relief that this is over TBH, as I'm looking forward to being 'freed-up' a little - everyone involved in the planning for the day committed a fair bit of time... BUT it was nice to see a good number of teachers from my region that participated so positively in a Professional Learning event ON A SATURDAY!! 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Give Me Your Attention!

We have all used the phrase, she is such an attention-seeker... in reference to a student who's behaviour we are finding problematic and frustrating.
With many such students, this need / desire to obtain attention is a key function of why they demonstrate negative behaviours - they want to be noticed, regardless of whether this is in a positive or negative light.

How do we effectively deal with such students and behaviours?

1. The traditional approach in schools has been along the lines of... 

  • Setting and enforcing strict standards,
  • Attempting to 'dominate' the behaviour / student - showing them who's boss... 
  • Punitive approaches - the student suffers escalating consequences and has 'privileges' taken away. 
  • These approaches value and expect compliance - all students should behave in a common way [the way that the teacher / school wants... ].
2. An alternative approach moves away from a deficit model, where the focus tends to be on what the student is missing, or cannot do. Instead, the focus is on directing and focusing attention towards the positive behaviours that the student does demonstrate... 

  • 'Catch them being good' [preferably early], so the student is getting the attention they desire / need - diminishing their 'need' to demonstrate *other* attention-seeking behaviours... 
  • Promote what you value - by recognising the behaviours that you do desire from students, a message is being sent to others about the sorts of behaviours that are important and are valued in this setting.
  • We will not 'fix' the significant behaviour issues of students overnight and there are no 'magic bullets' - we need to reduce the severity and frequency of negative behaviours over time.
  • These approaches acknowledge that - like in other Learning Areas - students have different starting points and individual capacities - we need to be aware of these differences and be willing to help students learn the positive behaviours that will better-enable them to succeed in school and beyond. 

School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support [SWPBS]

At our school, our approach to dealing with and teaching behaviour aligns closely with the second point from above.
The School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support approach is used and, this week, we have all had opportunity to reflect upon our progress and effectiveness with this approach, having had a visiting consultant work in our school for the week.
Some of the key aspects of this approach include:
  • The approach is implemented [you guessed it... ] school-wide - whether students are in their 'home' classroom, with a specialist teacher, outside in the playground or up in the front office area, they are experiencing similar messages and similar responses to their behaviours and actions.

  • Staff endeavour to be pro-active about providing positive recognition to students about their behaviour. We even have a ratio [!!] of positive : negative recognitions that we aim for [4:1].
  • Collection and monitoring of data - we 'track' just about everything at our school and behaviour data is no exception: 
  • We monitor all of our negative behaviours that result in students being sent out of class - this has enabled us to identify 'spikes' in negative behaviour, in terms of time and location of incidents.
  • We monitor many of our positive recognitions provided to students, including 'merit certificates' for in-class behaviours, 'honour awards' for earning 'x' amount of merits, 'thumbs up' tickets for playground behaviours, etc. - all of this has been useful for us to identify who / where may need more positive attention, in order to offset any 'spikes' in negative behaviour, as well as help teachers to identify any students who may be 'flying under the radar' and missing out on positive recognition.

  • Investigating the common functions of negative behaviours - why are students behaving this way and how can we address these underlying issues? 
  • teach and model the desired behaviours - it is so important for us to remember that we are the mature adults in these relationships: 
  • We need to model the behaviours that we are talking to students about and hoping for them to demonstrate.
  • We need to avoid getting into conflict and we definitely need to avoid demonstrating to students that aggression, physical size, loud voices, etc. are the ways to influence somebody's behaviour... 

More on functions... 

SWPBS operates on a premise that the functions of negative student behaviours invariably boil down to two reasons: to avoid [a task / person], or to obtain [an item or attention].
So, referring back to the top of this post re. how to deal with the 'attention-seeker' in your classroom, what are some ways that we can be proactive about providing this attention, in a bid to short-circuit the need for these students to obtain our attention via negative behaviours..?

Friday, 12 October 2012

Sitting in The 'Big Chair'...

I've just finished a week acting up in the absence of my principal. I'm happy with how things went and I enjoyed the experience, but I'm quite comfortable with my principal returning to her job next week!!

What were my goals?

There were probably two focus points I had for the week, both of which are also at the forefront of my mind when doing the AP role, but probably crystalised in focus for me when being the main point of leadership for all staff:

  • Being 'out and about' and visible for staff and students:

I wanted to make sure I made the most of my time when 'the people' were there. i.e. Being accessible to staff and students, as well as proactive about getting 'on my bike' and being in and out of classrooms. I wanted to use the 'non-people' times of the day [mornings, evenings] to work on the various administrative tasks that needed doing [emails, timetables, future planning, etc... ].

  • Communication:
Our school is very detail-oriented - a lot of importance is placed upon thorough plans being in place. This approach plays out in the way our daily bulletin is communicated, with each day's items of significance documented in blow-by-blow detail in an online space. Whilst this run down is also displayed in the staffroom, I wanted to make sure I covered every base in terms of communicating information, by talking with people face-to-face about any changes / reminders / special events / etc. affecting them.

Did we tread water, or did we keep moving forward..?

I think we ended up progressing a few more things than I'd planned to - I may be put on a tighter leash next week!!
  • We had positive and productive Leadership, Full Staff and School Council meetings - we were fortunate to have  positive, supportive people involved at each of these meetings.
  • We progressed a couple of fairly urgent staffing situations - again, excellent support was provided from our recruitment contact.
  • We had quality teaching and learning occurring throughout the school - good teachers, working hard with positive attitudes... 

Confession: I was lucky... 

I was lucky for a couple of significant reasons:
  1. Our school has an excellent team of teachers, office staff and support staff - everyone hit the ground running for the start of a new term, demonstrating flexibility, positive attitudes and great teamwork.
  2. Our principal - although she has been away on some idyllic, tropical location... I've known in the back of my mind that if the proverbial did hit the fan, she would respond rapidly to any email I sent to her with a red exclamation mark... In short, I had a safety net. She also did an amazing job setting things up for us before she left - it was almost a fool-proof scenario [I was probably a good test for this notion!!]

So, yes, I enjoyed the experience of the past week, but I [and probably everyone else] will breathe a little sigh of relief next week when our real captain returns to the ship.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

The 'zone'

I'm just coming to the end of a one-week 'stand-down' - in the NT, we only have one week for school holidays at the end of the first and third terms, as we have (a glorious!!) four weeks in the middle of the year.
It is these 'breaks' from the fast-paced school term times, where I am best-able to spend blocks of focused, uninterrupted time on creatively planning for my teaching, or working on 'bigger-picture' ideas... I like to go into a 'zone' where I can focus intensely for periods of time, without the interruptions and distractions that are inevitable when working in a people-oriented organisation such as a school.
I find it relaxing to know that I have this time available to me when on holidays, as I don't really find enough 'blocks' of time for this sort of sustained, focused work during school terms (night times and weekends are my best solution atm...). I also find being in this 'zone' intrinsically motivating, as I am able to make some progress on the more 'transformational' projects and work that I consider interesting and valuable - the purpose is clear and important to me.

A typical day:

Whilst I try to give myself a good deal of 'solo time' every morning by way of arriving early at work, a lot of this time is often used on checking plans and details, setting up for the day / week ahead and other 'transactional' tasks. Once the 'people' (staff and students) begin arriving, the day whirs by rapidly and I hop between teaching duties, meetings, communicating with staff and students, general problem-solving, behaviour issues and other tasks in a (very!!) hurried manner...
As an early-riser, my brain tends to 'fade' a bit in the afternoon / evening... So I usually go for a run at this time... I used to enjoy the mental 'break' this gave me from school, but more and more I use this time when I am (usually) alone to ponder some school issues and, if I'm lucky, solve a problem or two...

Before school commences again tomorrow, I hope I have made the most of my time in 'the zone'...

How / where do other people find / make time for sustained, uninterrupted, focused work..?
What are the conditions that best bring out your creativity..?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Measuring and Rewarding Teacher Effectiveness

Recently, a teacher-friend sent me a link to a resource for measuring teacher effectiveness. There are many such resources out there and most Western education jurisdictions now have some sort of initiative that is designed to measure how 'good' individual teachers are. Most of these initiatives are still housed in the performance processes of schools and systems and have not been directly linked to teacher pay scales or other reward mechanisms, or at least not as tightly linked as many 'reformers' would like...

CAN you 'measure' the effectiveness of individual teachers?

In short, I think you can measure the relative quality of individual teachers, or at least get a very good approximation. I certainly acknowledge there are alternative viewpoints out there regarding this!
Measuring this sort of broad, 'intangible' concept - a latent variable, to use a statistical term - is statistically achievable, but it requires a complex and detailed measurement approach. The statistical process of measuring the broad, difficult to quantify concept [eg: the quality of a teacher], is to measure the observable traits of the given concept. In other words, you measure what can be easily quantified and directly relates to the broader concept. A vital aspect of this approach, is to take into account as many of the observable traits that make up the broader concept as possible.

HOW can you accurately measure a teacher's effectiveness?

One thing I liked about the resource linked to earlier, is that they acknowledge the importance of multiple methods being used to gather information about a teacher's performance. Specifically, they cite 'student test scores', 'classroom observation' and 'surveys'. I agree that each of these are valid sources of information about a teacher's performance. 
However, the key to ensuring that a measurement tool / instrument / process is as valid and accurate as possible, is to emphasise [or 'weight'] the items that give the best information about the broader concept being measured.
In the case of measuring teacher quality, both student results and surveys are external indicators of a teacher's performance. Both of these sources of information can be impacted upon by other factors, outside of the teacher's control. 
Classroom observation, IMHO, is the most significant source of information in any determination of teacher quality - how can you accurately judge someone's capacity to perform, if you haven't watched and analysed them performing!?!
So we need to watch teachers teaching and analyse the wide variety of observable traits that make up a teacher's practice. The more specific and deconstructed from larger concepts that these observable traits are, the better. For example, one domain within the broader concept of 'Teacher Quality' would likely be something like 'Professional Knowledge'... This domain should be broken down into a series of items that are more easily quantified. eg:

  1. to what extent do the teacher's plans reflect understanding of the content?
  2. to what extent do the teacher's plans reflect understanding of the students?
  3. to what extent do the teacher's plans reflect understanding of the available resources?
  4. how appropriate are the teacher's instructional outcomes?
  5. how effectively do assessment methodologies match the goals of the learning sequence?
By rating / scoring the broad range of specific traits that are part of a teacher's role, we can 'build' an accurate picture of the relative quality of an individual teacher.

What about performance pay..?

My own views on this are evolving... 

I don't think the current system of paying people based upon how old [oops... 'experienced'... ] they are is fair or motivating.
Like anyone who has worked in a school, I've seen several examples of gun early-career teachers working for significantly less money than old, outdated, uninspired, ineffective teachers - purely because they haven't 'been there' for as long! I don't think this situation is fair and I think it can negatively impact upon staff harmony, as the underpaid guns get frustrated with the overpaid ineffectives... 

However... the science and research regarding motivation quashes the notion of financial incentives being effective in raising performance. Indeed, Daniel Pink, in his acclaimed 2009 book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, reveals that using financial incentives to motivate people to perform better invariably leads to worse performance!
Pink does not suggest that we work for nothing [phew... ]... but his research found that, if we "pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table" [page 33], then any further financial incentives are ineffective in terms of improving performance and, indeed, can often have the opposite effect, by way of reducing performance over time. Instead, Pink identified three aspects of intrinsic motivation as the best, long-term motivators in the workplace:

  1. autonomy
  2. mastery
  3. purpose

Aside from the ineffectiveness of financial incentives for improving performance, I fear the competition element that this would inevitably ignite between teachers. Teaching needs to be a co-operative, collaborative profession - initiatives that are designed to have some people 'succeed' [earn the financial rewards] and others 'fail' [miss out on the financial rewards] are doomed to see teachers taking more individualistic approaches to improvement and development.

So how should we use information about individual teacher quality?

I won't go into professional improvement processes here, but in terms of how we remunerate teachers, perhaps a fairer and more effective way than present is to pay all teachers a common salary - "take the issue of money off the table"... 
If we are going to reward extra effort, high performance, etc, perhaps we focus on intrinsic motivations and, if we do use extrinsic motivations, use them in a 'now - that' fashion, rather than 'if - then'... eg:


  • provide greater autonomy to high-performing teachers - "Hire good people, then leave them alone." [William McKnight, 3M President, 1930-1940]
  • provide greater opportunities for high-performing teachers to pursue mastery. eg: provide time / resources / etc. for the pursuit of further knowledge and skills, or allow greater time to work on areas of passion and interest.
  • give greater purpose to the role of high-performing teachers - create opportunities for them to lead and influence more broadly.


  • 'now that you've done [x, y, z... ], here is [insert reward]... '
  • don't make these external rewards the reason for performing well at the task [being a good teacher!].

Phew, that was a long post - what was it again that I promised myself for finishing this..?