Thursday, July 22, 2021

New Term blues

I try not to take a term for granted.  Teaching children is a privilege I may not always be capable of delivering to the level required.  13 years of each term - am I going to make it to the next term - am I good enough to do this well?  Should I hand it over to someone more capable?  At the end of each term, a sense of relief, but we can feel tired and a bit jaded.  The first week of a break is recovery and recharging the battery during the second week starts the readiness process for the following term.

Ego usually kicks in and says "yes I am more than good enough/ready", but not always.  It only takes a bad result or a poorly handled situation to start that internal conversation of have I been promoted beyond my ability and I should I step aside for someone that has more natural ability and doesn't have to work as hard to get similar results. 

It's a rare term when I return after a break and think - I'm ready and let's get into it.  It's usually a mix of trepidation, knowledge of what needs to be done and concern about what could arise as we enter the door.  This can reduce the enthusiasm that needs to be present at the start of each term after a break.  I'm mindful of the blues as it can infect a team with negativity and reduce it's ability to be flexible and agile but this anxiety is also what leads to high performance!

Term 3 is a pressure cooker and week 8 is the most difficult week of the year - a time when the pressure is at its worst - ATAR, grumpy kids, assessment due.  Teachers start thinking that being promoted or seeking greener pastures is preferable to increasing demands and behavioural concerns.  The silly season starts with a merry go round of teachers changing between roles and schools.  With these changes comes more pressure on leaders to keep teachers in front of classrooms and maintaining delivery standards.  It's no wonder that leaders at the start of the term can have a few more wrinkles than before the holidays.

The main message here is that even the most outwardly confident leaders have doubts about the direction they are taking, can lack confidence and are constantly reviewing how they should deliver.  As much as they are trying to support you, they need to know that you believe in what they are trying to achieve and require this belief to make things happen.  This is true from mentoring a peer all the way up to the Principal.

Any change a leader does is bound to upset someone - getting everyone to agree is a difficult/pointless task as it often leads to "good enough solutions" rather than optimal ones, the compromises required to make everyone happy negate the benefits sought (and the change is often better abandoned than pursued).  The pursuit of a goal can stress the belief in a leader when the status quo requires less work than the improvement sought, a status quo likely gained as it made life easier for teachers but is not in the best interest of students.

Thank goodness that HOLAs still teach - without the positive feedback from students it is sometimes a  thankless task.  

Friday, July 2, 2021

Screencasting, blended and flipped classrooms

Blended classrooms and flipped classrooms were quite the fad for a time.  I've had a bash at both and find blended classrooms to be vastly superior to flipped classrooms, with neither more effective than standard classroom teaching with a whiteboard and text.  My interest has always been in underperforming students and ICT is one of the tools I use with them, typically not exclusively but as a part of a bigger solution and generally not for initial instruction. 

Where technology replaces a teacher, it usually fails abysmally to overcome engagement, gaps in learning and pastoral care issues that are the bread and butter of today's classroom.  

Despite this, I have produced over 200 5 to 10 minute videos over the last two years for students. Each might get watched 8-10 times per year. Speaking with a local publisher that came to visit, he asked why bother?  There are hundreds of teachers producing resources and few being utilised, where is the return for effort?  I didn't argue, but did smile.  I think on this I have cracked how this IT malarky is useful in the classroom.  It's not rocket science but has taken 13 years to realise.

Let me make this clear.  As the main teaching tool, first point of introduction to a topic, generally speaking, a video is a poor teaching tool.  For disengaged or students that lack the ability to learn independently, it is useless.  In both of these cases, intervention is required by the teacher to engage students before any meaningful learning can occur.

What it can do is address many of the secondary issues faced in a classroom and promote higher levels of success.

- Students that are absent due to illness have access to the learning for the day
- Students can use it as a revision tool prior to assessment
- Students can use it to revisit the material taught and gain depth to their understanding by re-examining difficult parts
- It extends the reach of a classroom by providing assistance outside of class time
- It improves my teaching as I have to think prior to presenting to the class how I wish to introduce the topic
- It can assist me recall from year to year how to best teach a topic

- It provides feedback on parts of the course students are finding difficult (more students tend to watch)
- It provides an avenue for having a second crack at teaching a concept when I haven't connected fully during class
- It provides avenues for discussion about how I teach and how a topic can be taught (particularly useful for working with new teachers)

- The assistance given to students is in the form that I teach (as opposed to tools produced by others) and in the form I will later assess to the level required by the WA Syllabus.

- Parents access the videos to ensure they are teaching using the method required to the level required.
- It is another avenue to show that I care about my students.
- It is an opportunity to revisit syllabus dot points 
- It removes student excuses for not completing or understanding work.

- It actively, repeatedly models how to deconstruct a text and use a worked example.


Addressing the publishers issue, if a video takes 10-15 minutes to create and only 8-10 students look at it,  it is a good use of time.  With 200 videos available, that's 800 individual interventions that would not have occurred otherwise.  Each successful intervention raises confidence and reduces disengagement (which can be important with students on the edge of disengagement).  

Intervention one on one during lunch time is a more common intervention, but much less efficient.  Even every lunch, 50 per term would only be 200 interventions.  If the recordings are utilised for more than one year that could double or triple their effectiveness.

It's important to realise that I say to students that they do not have to watch them (unless under covid lockdown and it is the only teaching instruction available from me) and they do not include all that is taught in class - it is a support for them, not a way for me to get out of teaching (avoiding the complaints being made about universities).

If you would like to see some of the work I have done, it's all on Youtube here and some on Prezi from the link on the right from a long time ago before my interval in admin.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Assessment and retention

 For many years schools ran to a basic formula:

1. Set Programme based on Syllabus

2. Teach

3. Revise

4. Test 

5. Correct major issues (repeat 2,3,4,5 for each topic)

6. Exam 

7. Grade students to normalised performance (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7 for each semester)

The major issue with this approach was that the level of students on entry was not evaluated, grades were based on cohort performance, delivery was more important than learning and student anxiety for high stakes testing impacted on health and student performance.


This process changed during outcomes based education to:

1. Diagnose level of students using existing grades and standardised testing

2. Set Programme based on evidence

3. Teach

4. Check level of understanding through formative assessment

5. Revise

6. Perform summative assessment  using appropriate assessment technique  

7. Correct major issues (repeat 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 for each topic)  

8. Grade students to developmental continuum (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7 for each semester)

The issue with this approach is that the requirement to follow the Syllabus is not clear and the overhead for meeting the needs of every student is higher.  Schools can deviate significantly from the intended curriculum and grading can become difficult as what is being taught in each school is different, as is interpretation of the developmental continuum.


This process changed during the A-E standardised grading period (Australian Curriculum) to:

1. Set Programme based on Syllabus.

2. Diagnose level of students using existing grades and standardised testing

3. Set level of delivery based on evidence gathered

4. Teach

5. Check level of understanding through formative assessment

6. Revise

7. Perform summative assessment using appropriate assessment technique  

8. Correct major issues (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 for each topic)  

9. Grade students using on grade related descriptors based on their predicted end of year performance (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 for each semester)

During this iteration, teaching to the test became prevalent as the need for retention reduced without exams.  Over time, without retention, the level of learning decreased resulting in increasing levels of failing students by Year 10.  The standard set for each year level was unable to be achieved for large numbers of students increasing levels of anxiety as they encountered increasing levels of failure.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Lockdown and education

With four days of an 11 day term remaining, teachers are crawling to the finishing line.  Kids and staff are ratty and tired. Parents in the northern suburbs will be keeping students home for fear of getting the Delta strain and students will be looking forward to a break from the hum drum of school.

It would be nice if teachers were given the same status as other essential workers if we are required to work together in a Covid high risk area with little ones with limited hygeine skills.  Given we support those that are essential services (that can't operate without us) makes us essential services too?

With 50% of students at school, whatever is being taught has to either be retaught, create gaps or be revision.  It's not really very effective learning.

Mark McGowan is the people's premier.  Given the current questioning of why schools are open, it would be expected that he closes them in the next day or two.   It wasn't taken well that schools were kept open purely for essential services and not because children require an education or that education is valued by society!

The pressure on some teachers at the moment is considerable and should not be underestimated. Fear of covid has clear and observable effects on teaching staff, especially those that are also caring for elderly and are not vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout is currently slow due to fears of vaccine side effects (both Pfizer and Astra Zenica) and due to availability of vaccines.  


The next few days should be an interesting time again.  Bring on the break to reset everything again.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Reporting, Pathways and Streaming

Students are commonly placed in Pathways in schools commonly known as streams.  These streams set the level of teaching to ensure students are successful at the work that they attempt.  One class may focus more on the higher conceptual ideas leading to higher grades and other may focus on lower ability work.   All from the same year level syllabus, just at different difficulty levels. 

Students that succeed at a high level in their Pathway are given the option of promotion to a higher class and those underperforming are placed into a class where they are more likely to find success.

Many considerations are made when examining Pathway changes:

  • Whether swaps are available to maintain classroom size (and would also benefit from change)
  • Maximum class size restrictions
  • Content being delivered (where courses are not aligned)
  • Gender balance
  • Pastoral care
  • Reporting periods
  • Student aspirations
  • Demand for seats (whether other students are seeking the place in the class desired)

Reporting plays a large part in deciding who may be moved between Pathways.  An evidence base is required before a student is moved.  Once identified, success of the student in the new pathway is influenced by the preparation done by the recommending teacher prior to the move.  This would normally involve:

  • Warning guardians and student that a move is imminent without improvement 6-8 weeks before the move.
  • Talking to the parent about the need for the move when the decision has been made
  • Discussing with the student what would be required to return to the class if desired
  • Examining the impact on aspiration and possible grades of the move
  • Identifying the difference in expected behaviour/work ethic required in new Pathway
  • Discussing that the first 4-5 weeks to be difficult during transition
  • The student discussing expectations with the new teacher
  • Indicating the required classroom behaviours and study habits
  • Introducing the student to the new teacher

Where this has not been done, it can cause considerable additional difficulty, angst, anxiety and resistance to the Pathway move, instead of relief or welcoming of a new challenge.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Self Sabotaging or inhibiting your career in Education

Self sabotaging is something I've watched a lot in education, it can be devastating to a career.  Self sabotaging is doing things that will inhibit your progression as a teacher or administrator.  One of the self sabotaging criteria is underperformance and a lack of reflective practice. This is at the heart of doing things that are the opposite of what is desired as a teacher or administrator.

Signs that a teacher is underperforming:

- Hiding performance / resisting transparency measures

- Student performance is lower than standardised metrics or moderated results with other classes

- Attempting to deflect/criticise/identify/draw attention to other teachers that may also be underperforming

- A lack of self reflection / lack of evidence that underperformance is being addressed

- An inability/unwillingness to collaborate effectively with all members of the team

- Student/Parent complaints

- Requests for others to do their work or be paid extra for work that is part of their job description

- Unwillingness to contribute outside of 8.30 to 3.00 

- Requirements for admin to regularly intercede due to conflict 

- Lack of modification of identified undesirable behaviours

- actively seek to avoid classroom teaching

- personalising criticism rather than seeking to address an issue

- Fear and discipline is the main motivator to encourage learning

If someone is seeking promotion to HOLA, Student Services or Administration they need to have support that they have the ability to perform in that role and evidence that they have recently performed in that role.  Staff don't often realise that when a leader is requested for a recommendation they cannot over inflate the negative and need to identify what they can do as well as any weaknesses.  All staff have weaknesses that can be addressed over time.  That notwithstanding, underperforming staff seeking promotion are typically unable to show the qualities that would make them competitive for promotion and have some of the following qualities:

Signs of self sabotaging:

- Alienating those whose support is required for promotion

- Creating factions seeking to undermine initiatives to improve student performance 

- Promoting the good old days without promoting the changes that have been successful 

- Being inflexible / cantankerous / obstinant / passive aggressive / passive defiant / avoidant

- inflated opinion of ability

- Not seeking or taking opportunities to display skills and attributes

- low self esteem (depression) / highly inflated self esteem (narcissism) 

- are not clear about their career aspirations

- have not sought assistance with their application / have attracted few mentors

- Seeking to get their own way by "bullying", aggressive or emotional language

These behaviours need to be discouraged as they are not good for the health of the organisation, or the person exhibiting these behaviours as they will often be unaware of why they are not getting the recognition or promotion they believe they deserve.

Bullying is an important one. In today's society no-one should promote someone known for bullying.   This is an absolute headache for admin as a bully will create work for those working around them for the sake of "efficiency" benefits that rarely exist or put people down to raise their own self esteem causing anxiety, low morale and turnover of staff.

Good leadership requires making it clear what desirable and undesirable behaviours are and providing a clear organisational vision. Management is required for compliance issues, where leading staff willingly fails and/or where corrective instruction is required.  Leadership tends to focus on macro decisions regarding the pathway of a faculty (relying on professionalism to interpret correctly the direction given), "micro" management should be minimised to what is absolutely necessary to get a person to fulfil their responsibilities.

Unmanageable staff need to either be limited in scope (typically because they are highly functional in a subset of roles needed by an organisation) and/or be informed that their behaviours are unacceptable, informed as to why, the possible consequences of these behaviours and given a period of time to rectify their behaviour. It should be clear that Management is not bullying, but management should be underpinned by an evidence base, clear communication or an instruction from higher in management.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Covid and Good Enough Teaching

I was talking with a colleague on Friday and conversation returned to online education.  The premise was if online teaching was good enough and more cost effective than online delivery, would schools move to online delivery for students in courses where it was reasonably effective.

The hypothesis was that is is possible for a highly skilled teacher (top 10% of teachers skilled in delivering the course) to deliver highly effective content for a Methods course to a large number of students (>1000).  If this was possible, it would have the potential to reduce costs significantly, as the IT infrastructure has already been significantly implemented (and tested during Covid) and face-to-face teachers would not be required.  If each class is about 20 students, that's 50 teachers at $24000 per year, $1.2 million dollars.  If a fifth of that was allocated to online tutors and markers, that's still a saving of about 1 million dollars.  Where schools are struggling to run small courses and SCSA prevents mixed year classes - this could be a godsend.  Schools wouldn't even run classrooms, just timetable time for students to be at home working.  After the content was created it could be re-run year after year.  This is already happening in University mathematics courses.

My colleague took this further and said that the online course would deliver better instructional content than current classrooms in face-to-face mode.  Information could be standardised more easily to the intent of syllabus writers, typically teachers delivering courses face-to-face are not in the highly skilled category, teachers have competing demands in different courses and may have issues impacting on performance from outside the classroom.

Theoretically we could run schools in an online/offline more, where students come to school for socialisation, tutoring and assessment and stay at home for the rest of the time learning online.  Content would be superior and the teaching environment could be better utilised in a cheaper "good enough" solution - the ultimate aim of any bean counter.  Schools could support a greater number of students and become much more efficient delivering content.

Could a compromise be that all ATAR courses be delivered online/offline and students only attend schools 2.5 days per week?

The obvious counter to all of this is that not all high school students are motivated enough to work online for a long period, schools do more than deliver content, context and socio-economic factors impact implementation and research is required to analyse how students impacted by covid perform at University and other higher learning online. 

Education has not evolved for 100 years and is predominantly still delivered in the same mode despite significant changes in technology.  Education appears to be on the precipice of a technology disruption.  Will we too be the victims of automation, or will we navigate it somehow to continue to be an integral part of society?

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The bucket

Alan Hughes (Level 9 HOLA) introduced me to the idea of the bucket.  The bucket represents the resilience of a student.  Each time a student offers an answer and gets a negative response (laughing, teasing, being wrong) they lose a little of themselves out of the bucket.  If they get a positive response, the bucket starts to fill again.

As the bucket gets more and more depleted, they get more unwilling to put themselves out there.  When it is near the bottom, they will protect what is left by refusing to answer, refusing to try, being defiant and protective of what little self esteem they have left in the bucket.  Adolescence is a difficult time, between hormones, increasing academic ability, fragile confidence, peer issues, seeking independence and protective parents, a lot is drawing out of the bucket.

It is important to ensure that students never reach the point of protecting themselves.  The bucket should be overflowing with enthusiasm with opportunities to build self confidence - not everyone outside of the classroom will understand that this is important or why you are working with this student.  It starts with a welcome, hello and something positive that they can contribute.  

When a child has little in the bucket it is important to provide opportunities to refill it before it reaches the point of self protection.

When a child is at the point of self protection, a caring person will let them know it is ok and help them refill the bucket - preferably assisting with diminishing demands on the bucket from outside the classroom.

Since it was first introduced to me, I have appreciated the bucket analogy and it assists in understanding why Alan is such a great person and teacher.  He lives the analogy and has assisted many students refill the bucket.