Thursday, December 5, 2019

So what comes next?

Career management is an interesting problem in education.  Back in the day, a five year plan was probably sufficient to guide a young teacher through the first steps in education.

Year 1 - survival.  It doesn't matter that you are doing long hours and are losing the will to live.  Find a good mentor.  Talk about your issues.  As the new cab off the rank, your classes are likely to suck and will be a mishmash of whatever the grid throws at you.  Don't complain.  Don't overcomplicate it.    The classes you've been given are impossible to manage properly so use every trick you can think of to connect with the students and stop them piling out the door and annoying student services.  Get on a CMIS Course and learn some low key strategies. Bubble with enthusiasm.  If the year was too traumatic and you caused too much chaos, quickly move to another school and don't make so many mistakes this time.  Resist the urge to relief teach unless you can't get a proper gig.

Year 2 - critical times.  Classroom management should now be in order.  If you haven't managed to annoy anyone, they should be feeling sorry for you after the horror story you were dealt in your first year,.  With slightly better classes, start to get your resources in order and start understanding how content fits together.  Your eyes will be sunken into your face and you will look slightly haggard, that sinking feeling that you made a mistake and teaching isn't what you thought it would be will occur.  This is the hump.  Embrace it.. generally speaking it gets better from here.

Year 3 - content mastery.  If you are finally teaching the same class twice, you will be starting to see how the content fits together in a way teachable to your kids.  There will be bad days when you just want to do your job but the kids will just not do what they should.  Little buggers.  Now that you've been deemed competent, the evil bastard doing timetabling will give you a horror mix of classes.  You will laugh in his/her face and get through the year with a semblance of sanity remaining and possibly looking ten years older than you are.  All those people that told you year 3 was easier are also evil lying bastards.

Year 4 - What the F%$4 happened.  This is when you look back and can't remember the names of students from year 1 but things are looking up. Those evil lying bastards knew something that you didn't know. Something clicks and you realise that teaching is a bit formulaic after you have content and behaviour mastery and you can start doing things you had hoped possible in your first year.  A smile returns to your face (though it possibly cracks when you try for the first time four years).  Understand where you sit in the queue of better classes / opportunities at the school.  Don't get sad if someone else gets something you want, just figure out how they did it and be ready for the next one.  If you haven't already, start asking for that ATAR class.

Year 5 - Get Out. If you are still in the same place, get your butt into application mode and seek a school with better conditions than the one you are in.  Get your resume and CV done.  Get involved in the 'write your selection criteria' meetings with Exec.  Understand what opportunities that exist that float your boat.  By doing this, the school sees potential and one of two things happen - either promotional opportunities occur locally, or you take all your new found skills elsewhere and start again on the same cycle (though hopefully shorter).  This is the critical step for career progression, it refreshes your enthusiasm, provides challenge and is the basis of any 5 year plan.

Years 6-10.  Look at what you want to do next and start doing it in your current role.  Aspire to HOLA?  Work on the programmes and get a place on the curriculum committee.  Take a praccie and practice those management skills.  Join the social committee or board or ball committee.  Be active and gather advocates for your career.  Don't sit back and wait for it to happen.  Volunteer for that two week role, lead the student council, anything that makes that CV align with your next chosen role.  Do some interviews and get interview skills and your CV right.   Your first interview is likely to suck. You won't be ready for that role you really want if you don't do the hard work early.  Don't get stuck in a school unless there are serious opportunities for progression.  It's harder than Year 2 but more rewarding at times.  Beware giving up teaching student time (it's an easy trap to fall into) - it's the buzz in teaching, without it, you can start again to wonder where the satisfaction is, even if it is a bit easier.  Students may make your hair flame in burning angst but they are also why we enter into this thing.

After that you'll have to ask someone that has successfully navigated it.  I'm still figuring it out too, although on a fairly accelerated trajectory. Have fun!

Friday, November 8, 2019

Looking back at 2020

So when I look back at 2020 I see a successful year.

  • Deputy for the majority of the year
  • Supported three different Principals
  • Assisted students find alternate pathways where required
  • Navigated difficult cases working with Department of Communities, Department of Justice, Participation and Engagement resulting in positive outcomes for students
  • Led the Course Counselling team
  • Led the Curriculum team
  • Completed the 2020 timetable
    • Created a MAG class for 7/8 to assist low literacy numeracy students in 2020
    • Implemented the Student Council Form Class
    • Implemented a lower school specialised basketball programme
    • Created a focus on Endorsed Programmes
    • Changed the mode of the period 25 class to reduce FTE requirements
    • All teachers on load
  • Created a focus on NCCD intervention
  • Worked with teachers in performance management group to raise awareness of opportunities and strengths
  • Managed the NNEI relationship
  • Named a fellow by Rotary for services to education and welfare of students
  • Started the Guitar group and a boardgame group with students
  • Continued to work with the low mood boys group
  • Developed an understanding of SENN reporting and implemented it for a whole year 7 class
  • Mentored two social work Practicum students
  • Navigated some difficult staffing issues to conclusion
  • Maintained a calm approach in Senior School

Sunday, September 22, 2019

High School Boardgames

It's been a while since I have written on board games successful with high school students.  While I still have favourites in my repertoire, a few new ones are being used to good effect.

Recently we have been playing Warhammer 40 Killteam, a skirmish based war-game after school.  Kids can now play the majority of the rules during a game, takes about an hour and is a bit of fun.  Cost of entry is a big concern unless you have a Warhammer person on staff and use their stuff.  Playing, painting, assembling, learning rules is part of the fun.  Warhammer stores offer school based offers from time to time.

Deception, Murder in Hong Kong has become my go to Cluedo/Werewolf, type game over Spyrun.  It's simple, can be learned fast, is easy to get your hands on, and is less than an hour to play.

5 Minute Marvel/Dungeon is a quick game, runs to a timer and gets a bit of excitement in the room.  Students have to refine their strategy as the enemies get stronger.

Together with Blokus, Citadels, SET, Ticket to Ride Europe, Apples to Apples, Dixit, Carcassone, Claustrophobia, King of Tokyo/New York, Triazzle; games in a classroom can become a whole class or small group activity that develops a classroom and builds social skills.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Timetabling

In a small school, timetabling is a delicate balancing act.  If too many resources are placed in maintaining ATAR classes, limited resources are available for the lower school or for the majority in General or Certificate based courses.  If too few resources are placed in ATAR courses, students lack the diversity of subjects required to fully engage them to achieve their best.  It also can limit the career progression of teachers seeking positions in other schools as they lack the experience teaching ATAR courses.

The previous core of subjects (Maths II/III (in whatever incarnation Methods/Specialist, 3ABCD MAS/3ABCD MAT), Physics, Chemistry, English/English Literature, History) now has a few alternates with Politics and Law, Computer Science, Human Biology that can challenge the traditional big six for getting a high ATAR score.  Language bumps and min/maxing Mathematics Applications (Discrete, Maths I) could also provide avenues for success.  To provide a core of subjects can be costly when 10-16 students are involved in each ATAR cohort.

Timetabling is difficult in these circumstances.  Split 11/12 classes or combined General/ATAR courses become more common.  In our case we share courses with neighbouring schools and bus kids back and forth, using a pair of double periods (one after school) to minimise busing and disruption to the general timetable.  SIDE becomes an option where class sizes reduce below 5.  It is very important to have teacher buy-in to prevent resistance and disruption to learning.

Important to success is careful planning during course counselling.  Choices for students need to be limited to what can be delivered.  Failing to do this effectively results in a bloated grid or considerable disappointment and re-counselling of students when subjects are not offered.  This process requires long lead times and making accurate predictions on the nature of each cohort prior up to two years before a cohort hits upper school.

To maintain teacher morale, it is important that the needs of an individual are considered when assigning teachers to classes.  Planning must be in place through performance management and career planning.  A degree of equity is required to ensure that challenging classes academically and challenging classes behaviourally are shared. Strong vs compliant personalities need to be considered.  Promises made must be adhered to, to maintain credibility - especially hard as these can be made to past timetablers, HOLAs, Principals or "just be in the head of a teacher" as a fair response to a difficult prior year.

SCSA requirements through the CAR policy in year 7 and 8 has put pressure on the grid. Requirements for digital design, performing arts, visual arts, computing and soon languages puts pressure to maintain specialist teachers within the school, typically with less than a full FTE requirement.  This results in an increase of teachers teaching out of area or on reduced loads.  The alternative is to have more multi-skilled teachers and to create "teacher based solutions" that are hard to refill if the teacher moves on.

Specialist teachers in key areas (such as Certificate delivery, Physics, Specialist Sport, Dance, D&T, Media, Visual Art) can be hired on reduced loads, but typically request 0.8 FTE over four days.  With four to five people like this in a timetable, this is difficult to grid in a small school, requiring careful consideration to prevent lopsiding grids with subjects not evenly distributed across the week, creating situations where teachers have multiple days without breaks or a subject being repeatedly delivered during the last period of the day.

Requests to reduce load to cater to family requirements, mental health or in preparation for retirement are common.  With childcare costs similar to working costs, requests for fulldays rather than 0.8 over 5 days has significant proportions of staff on reduced load.

With diluted specialisation (if sharing a specialist subject such as Methods between multiple teachers), a teacher may only get to teach a subject once every two to three years.  This does not lend itself to the level of specialisation typically required to be able to accurately grade and design assessment materials.  This has created an increased reliance on purchased assessments (which are regularly compromised through sharing on social media) and small group moderation.  Small group moderation puts additional pressure on teachers as there is an overhead mantaining these relationships successfully.

More recently the need to use endorsed programmes to supplement WACE has become more prevalent.  Leadership, Sporting, Performing Arts and Workplace Learning skills developed by teachers requires individuals to deliver particular courses as only they have the expertise and patience required to monitor, manage evidence and deliver the programmes within the school, limiting where these individuals can be used on the grid.

Other considerations also drive the timetable. Marketing a school is important (put effective teachers in year 7/8 or risk reduced numbers from reputation loss), remediation through extra resourcing or multi-age grouping, extension classes, capacity building, balancing electives come to mind.

Understanding these factors, and the skill base of each teacher is the domain of the timetabler.  A skilled timetabler in a school manages this with ballet-like grace and few understand the surprise that comes with a grid finally coming together.